Mixed kNuts: All Aboard the Magical History Tour!

Why does Scott Johns think You Suck? Teddie Kneutered asks the question, and applies it to his playstyle, showing you the mistakes he’s made and how he’s raised his rating. While he’s at it, he hates my stupid nicknames for him – and is willing to pony up some good cards to have you create one! Oh, and badger testicles.

I have a stupid name – at least for someone in the public sector. For the last twenty-five years, I have had to deal with people mispronouncing my name so much that I finally stopped caring about it. In fact, I care so little about it anymore that I intentionally used a common mispronunciation for my weekly column title (Mixed kNuts). For those of you who do care, my name is pronounced kuh-newt-sun, but you almost never hear it that way unless you happen to live in a Scandinavian country or Minnesota/Wisconsin.

Things were a lot worse when I was a kid. In my younger days I ran around as”Ruxpin,” an obvious takeoff on everyone’s least favorite animatronic bear (Teddy Ruxpin for you younger readers.) Severe emotional scarring ensued. I find myself suppressing urges to go postal on the Country Bear Jamboree at Disney World because I can’t take the animatronic flashbacks. Don’t even get me started on the freakin'”All the birds can sing and the flowers croon in the” Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki Room. Let’s just say that it’s a good thing that Disney increased their security after September 11th or severe robotic carnage would ensue on my next visit.

I graduated to”Sped” at age ten or so, which was derived from an ever-so-clever saying dealing with my propensity for short haircuts and the fact that Ted, Sped, and bristlehead conveniently rhyme. Of course, as soon as the testosterone started flowing, the fact that I had the word”nut” in my last name became a constant curse.”Nutsack” was probably the most common form of derogatory nickname used for me, but in spite of (or perhaps because of – I’m not exactly sure of the causation here) the state of public schools, you will find that teenagers can still be surprisingly creative when faced with the myriad of possibilities that my last name provided.

Thankfully there’s a guy that I work with named Smallwood, so he appreciates my pain. Whenever I see him walking down the hall, I always ask,”Hey Largewood, how’s it going?” I think it brightens his day. Then again, I think I saw a murderous glint in his eye the last time we passed in the hall, so perhaps I should rethink my strategy here in order to avoid a horrible flashback death.

Things could be worse though, I could have been named Steinmetz. (Hey, some people will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid being called that – The Ferrett)

My name problem was compounded by the fact that I don’t have any decent nicknames. First off, let me state that a nickname is not something a person can give themselves. I tried to start up the whole”Teddy KGB” thing – but except for its adoption by Pete Leiher, the gambit failed miserably. Apparently I was the only one among the people I hang out with who thought that having a nickname after John Malkovich’s classic Rounders character would be cool. Or maybe my friends just realized that it was a forced nick de plume or pseudonick, and felt it was their duty to punish such behavior by continuing to mispronounce my name.

Aside: Have you ever noticed just how much Rounders is mentioned by Magic players? Poker players and Magic players tend to overlap quite a bit, and that movie certainly seems to be well-loved by both camps.

Even after the failure of my minor KGB gambit, I hadn’t lost hope. The nickname thing seemed important somehow, so I kept thinking about it and plugging away at possibilities while putting on my socks. And then taking them off. And putting on my socks. And taking them off. The next option was”the self-proclaimed Sexiest Man in Magic,” but after some deliberation, I don’t think that the audience for these articles would appreciate it. Besides, I’m pretty sure David Copperfield stamped a TradeMark on that name sometime while I was in diapers and has continued to renew it. The real illusion is that this guy is still sexy at age 2000 or whatever he is. Of course, the last time I shagged Claudia Schiffer was, ohhhhh, sometime around never, so Copperfield’s mojo is clearly stronger than my own.

Most of the guys I play Magic with call me”newts” which is really just a nicer way of mispronouncing my name (silly English language and its silent k’s). That, or they really think that I’m a lizardy sort of fellow that slithers out of the marsh to play Magic and basketball with them twice a week. Whatever the case, it remains unacceptable, as it is neither cool, nor funny, nor interesting. A decent nickname has to have a good story behind it at the very least, even if you have no idea why the person still carries that nickname around with them like a case of herpes that just won’t go into remission.

Even The Ferrett, that thesaurus of editorial snarkiness (how’s that for style points… working The Ferrett in right after mentioning herpes) (I always seem to , has been short on useful nicknames. All he has been able to come up with in his intros were”Knutmaster” and”Knutster,” neither of which is particularly cool, interesting, funny, whatever.

Dammit folks, I’m a nickname person. I unintentionally make up nicknames for all of my friends because I’m completely incompetent when it comes to remembering names (hey, George Dubya and I do have something in common!). Being the bearer of (sometimes bad) nicknames, it seems strange that I should be without one. Am I cursed to have no decent nicknames forever?

Ah, dear reader, this is where you come in…

It’s Contest Time!

I’m tired of my lack of a nickname, and I’m finally willing to do something about it. Instead of coming up with cheesy nicknames of my own that never get used, you people are going to provide me with one instead. In return, I’m going to provide you with incentive in the form of Star City store credit.

Here are the rules:

1) Each contestant may submit up to two nicknames to [email protected]

2) Submissions will be accepted for one week from the posting of this article.

3) Once the deadline has passed, I will compile a Top 5 listing of all nicknames submitted and will post them for you to vote on (again at [email protected]). Voting will continue for 1 week at which time the results will be tallied and I will have a new nickname. Each person only gets 1 vote.

4) First place will receive $20 in Star City store credit. Second Place will receive $10.

5) I will also choose a booby prize for the person who submitted what I deem to be the worst possible nickname. That person will then receive a set of the worst rares out of my collection, should they choose to accept. I will not send them a package containing a Psychatog autographed by [author name="Toby Wachter"]Toby Wachter’s[/author] dog, no matter how entertaining that might be for all parties except the recipient. Just picture Ed McMahon showing up with a giant check and a bag of poo and you start to see why I’m smiling.

6) All submissions must include your name and an e-mail address where you can be contacted.

7) All submissions must pass Star City’s mild censorship policy in order to be posted. Sorry Sparky, but them’s the rules.

8) Be creative. If the contest works out, I’ll be stuck with this thing for as long as I write Magic articles, so a nickname that doesn’t suck is preferable (to me anyway).

So there’s the contest. Who else on the web would put themselves at your mercy twice (once for my Regionals deck choice,) just to liven things up around here? Even worse, who would subject themselves to the possibility of ridicule and humiliation that they could receive from MiseTings and Team Academy? Am I serious? Absolutely. Is this useful? Of course not – nobody actually cares that I don’t have a nickname except me, but I’m willing to make it worth your while. Will it be entertaining? God I hope so…

So why all the nonsense about names? After an underwhelming response to requests for what you thought have been the best articles about the game in previous weeks (though I’m still taking submissions at [email protected]), I have decided to do my own research (with some help from the idle www.mtgword.com). Starting today (and continuing off and on for as long as this is interesting, which will probably be a much shorter period of time than Oscar Tan has written about Control and Type 1) I’m going to start reviewing the work of some of the most seminal writers who have graced the online Magic scene. People with cool names like Zvi, Burn, Hahn, Hacker, Taylor, Wakefield, Rizzo, Johns, Price, and Flores. (Flores? Bet that means something cool, like”the lion” or”the wolf”, ay?) These are the guys that shaped the way that you think about the game of Magic today.

What’s more, many of them continue to provide us with technical insights on the current state of the game, so it may prove useful to review the concepts they presented in earlier days in order get the most out of their current articles.

Hop on the Bus

The place to start any discussion about Magic Theory is with Rob Hahn’s Schools of Magic. I’m not going to do that today though, because I did a theory-intensive article last week (listens to the groans of affirmation from the crowd), and Joel Allen here at Star City recently covered Rob’s Schools articles. Instead, I’m going to focus on one of my favorite articles of all time: Scott John’s”You Suck”.


The article can be found in its entirety at the link above, and I highly recommend reading it for yourself. However, the lazy among you can stay right here, as I’m going to be ripping out quotes and covering the important parts myself.

This article was only written about nine months ago, so from a time perspective it is just as likely to be relevant today as it was last August. However, it’s the subject material that makes the article permanently relevant, and not just to the game of Magic.

Scott starts out by saying”You Suck” in big, bold letters. Why yes, Scott, yes I do – but how did you know that? We’ve never even met before, nor have you seen me play, so how could you have a clue as to whether I suck or not? Well, this isn’t just some Team Academy statement where Scott assumes the whole world sucks because people are alive; he honestly means that you suck and he’s about to tell you why.

So now that Scott has told me I suck, I feel at home. People go around telling me this all the time, and now that Scott has chimed in with his opinion as well, I feel like he really knows me. The article has taken on an intimate, personal slant.

“The good news is, so do I, and damn near every other player out there, all the way up the Player of the Year lists. The bad news is, many of you may not even realize it.”

Well fine Scott, just ruin the mood by lumping me in with everyone else. I thought we had something going here, but apparently you have other plans.

Scott’s real objective is to drive home the point that having some humility about the state of your skills will make you a better Magic player.

Humility – the state of being humble.

Humble1 : not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive

2 : reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission humble apology>

By being honest about your abilities as a Magic player, you are a) more likely to notice when you make glaring play errors that affect the game, b) more likely to accept constructive criticism from other players when they point out your mistakes, and c) less likely to blame your losses on things like”‘mana screw’, ‘rock/scissors/paper’, and many many other ‘culprits’.” In short, Scott is guiding your through one of the simplest and most effective methods of improving your game.

According to Scott, there are three different types of mistakes in Magic that affect the outcome of your matches.

The first type of mistake is The Obvious Blunder. These are the times where you have a brainfart and misplay something obvious. In the article, Scott points out multiple blunders made by Brian Selden and Matt Vienneau in the finals of a $1500 Team Sealed Deck tournament held at Worlds. The point that he makes here is that these guys are big-time players, playing in a tournament worth a decent chunk of change – and yet they still screw up. They still tap their mana incorrectly from time to time, they still forget to cast creatures prior to their attack phase with a Fires on the board – and if you are anything close to an average player, you do this sort of thing, too. A lot. Scott is showing you that the pros do these same dumb things, so the difference between their skills and yours may not be that great.

I can honestly say that I have reduced this type of mistake in my own game to a relatively low level, but only when it comes to Constructed formats. Limited is a whole different story, as noted by my dismal 1643 rating (compared to 1800+ in Constructed).

Aside: Though I don’t really care about my rating outside of using it as a method to see whether or not I’m getting better as a player, I’ve discovered that comparing your rank to notable writers and players in your region is often fun. For example, while my Limited rating is embarrassing, my Top 32 finish at Regionals put my Constructed rating just ahead of such notables as my good friend Bennie”The” Smith and Bad Player Shuler. Then again, I also know some kids in the state of Virginia that are still fifty rating points ahead of me, so – ahem – ratings mean nothing.

At the Judgment Prerelease two weekends ago, I made no less than ten obvious blunders over the course of 4 matches. I mis-tapped land, I played extra lands when I really needed to hold them in my hand for use with Chamber of Manipulation, and I forgot that I could steal my opponent’s creatures (with the Chamber again) and then use Glory out of my graveyard to remove whatever enchantments were cast on them. Those are just a few samples of my play as I blundered my way through four sub-par matches. Bennie Smith watched me for a bit and just laughed at me every time I figured out how I was making dumb mistakes, because to him they were clear, and he couldn’t understand how a normally good player like me could play so badly.

Okay, I could use the excuse that I was working with a new set, and therefore could expect to screw some things up… But the truth is that I wasn’t playing that well. I was excited to be playing with the new set and out to have fun, and because of this I wasn’t in that zone where I see the whole game, so I kept making mistakes. Just call me Zev Gurwitz.

Oh yeah, my record that day was 3-1. The 1 wasn’t actually a loss, but was instead a draw where I conceded after a roll of the dice. Believe it or not, I didn’t actually lose that day in spite of all those play mistakes, because everybody else I played either had worse decks than I did, or screwed up even more than me.

The key idea here is that I was aware of my suckage. Presumably, some day, this will make me a better player.

I’m aware of my suckage in other areas of my life as well. When I’m playing goalkeeper on my local soccer team, I can tell you whether a save I blew was caused by bad form on my part, bad positioning, or sheer skill by my opponent. I try to be as honest as I can about my mistakes because that is the only way I will get better. When I make my wife really angry at me for something stupid that I did, I try to figure out why things turned out the way they did so that I don’t make the same painful mistakes time and again. Then again, she usually beats the lesson into me as well, just to make sure that the learning process is taking hold.

Back to Magic.

These days, every time that I make dumb play mistakes in a game, I sear that mistake into my brain so that I never make it again. It doesn’t always work, but at least I’m trying to fix things. Lately, I’ve had the propensity to play all the burn spells in my Burning Bridge deck as if they were sorceries. This is a good way to not be able to respond to things on the end of your opponent’s turn. I find it to be a particularly effective strategy when I want to lose. I made that same mistake multiple times last weekend – even after it cost me a game. To me, this is a little kid mistake, and I was making it because I felt like I was playing a little kid deck. You could hear my shouts of glee as I sat behind my Ensnaring Bridge, just waiting to draw enough burn to kill my opponents.

Apparently, I should be quite embarrassed by such acts of childish abandon, but I think I’ve locked that part away in the corners of my psyche where not even therapy can unlock the secrets. Hopefully, this coming weekend I’ll snap out of this behavior and act like a Magic player instead of a little kid… But you never know.

Focusing on a specific Pro Player, I’m guessing that Kai simply doesn’t make these kinds of mistakes anymore. You can’t make them with any regularity and still win, especially on the Pro Tour, and Kai seems to do very little except win. The competition there is simply too good and the margins of victory are too small in order to still win while blundering your way through matches.

Perhaps if you eliminate your blundering in Magic and a little luck swings your way, you can become the American Budde, complete with potbelly and pleasantly enigmatic smile. I’m already halfway there (beer, wonderful beer), now all I need is a smile and some enlightenment.

So where the hell was I? Ah yes, Scott Johns‘ article… I was dreaming when I wrote this; forgive me if it goes astray.

Mistake type deux for Scott is the improper judgment call. This type of mistake is much less obvious than the blunders discussed earlier, but it is just as likely to cause you to lose games. Scott’s example recounts his final match at Worlds last year, where he faced off against Ben Rubin and basically Force of Will’d the wrong card (in this case it was a Rancor that Ben cast on a Wild Dog, as opposed to the Winter Orb Ben dropped on the next turn).

Returning to the premise that Magic is entirely comprised of decisions (see last week’s article), bad judgment calls are made all the time. Granted, there are some games when you play your deck as perfectly as the cards allow and still lose – but just as often you will choose the wrong strategy against an opponent’s deck and will lose because of that.

Last week, Sam Fog was playing some ridiculous Bloodcurdler/Finkel/Psychatog deck against me in the finals of a local Type 2 tournament. In multiple games, Fog laid down an early ‘Tog and then followed up with Finkels and Bloodcurdlers, and in every game I chucked my burn directly at his head (and at the Finkels) while waiting to draw one of the four Ensnaring Bridges in my deck. In each game, I died while Sam was in single digits of life.

Now it would be easy to say that I lost because I didn’t draw a Bridge like I should have – but instead I lost the match because I made a poor judgment call. If I had chosen to try and burn out all of Sam’s creatures while waiting to draw a Bridge and then safely burning Sam out, I might have won. At the very least I would have prolonged our games (thereby giving me a better chance to win) and made it much tougher for Sam to kill me with a single attack.

The last type of mistake that Scott describes are the toughest to discover on your own, and may be the true separating factor between the good players and the Pros. These are the mistakes that Scott describes as”missed opportunities.”

Missed opportunities occur when”due to complexity, rules knowledge, or simple oversight” a player overlooks an opportunity to win. In Scott’s case, he missed a chance to win a game outright because he didn’t think of bouncing his opponent’s Spike Weaver in response to his opponent sacrificing a second counter from it while the payment for Illusions of Grandeur was on the stack. He didn’t even know that he had missed a chance to win the game until he told his story to Zvi Mowshowitz and Alan Comer.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, we don’t have Zvi and Alan hanging around to critique our play. In fact, most people don’t have a high enough knowledge of the game to even notice missed opportunities like this. But if you do have these people around, take advantage of them!

The next time you play in an event, see if you can get one of the better players around your store to observe your play. Hand them a pen and a pad of paper, and then ask them to critique how you played your games and what you could have done differently. If you do this enough, you will increase your knowledge of card interactions (and ostensibly the rules as well), and also start to see more of the possibilities in the game.

If you can’t find someone to watch you, then do the reverse and watch one of the better players around you play, and write down any questions you have about how or why they played what they did, and review your questions with them afterwards.

Scott wraps up his article by stating,”How can you improve if you don’t even know you made a mistake in the first place? … And yet, that’s the crux of the whole thing! Once we accept responsibility and admit that surely our losses are not all due to bad luck or pairings, that we do make significant mistakes, it becomes that much more likely that you will catch yourself on things like this, learn from them, and become a better player for it!”

If you want to become a better player and stop making obvious blunders, making bad judgment calls, and missing opportunities to win, here are some things to try:

  1. Pay Attention. The game is so complex these days that you really have to concentrate on what is happening on the board in order to know what the correct plays are. So stop chatting with your friends during a game, stop taking phone calls from friends and ordering pizzas on your cell phone, and concentrate on what is in front of you.
  2. Take Your Time. Once you are paying attention, take the time to review your options. Follow the paths that you could take and figure out the likely results. At first this may cause you problems, because it will slow down your play. However, if you consistently do this you will find that you get faster at it, and it will drastically improve your game. The mistakes that I kick myself for the most are the boneheaded ones where I misplay a spell or attack incorrectly because I didn’t take the time to get all the information first.
  3. Increase Your Knowledge. Learn the rules of the game and how some of the more complex cards interact with each other. By figuring out the mechanics of the more complex interactions, you will often find yourself seeing new ways to play the simple mechanics as well. Read Sheldon’s archives (have a safe trip, amigo) and learn from the little nuggets of gold that he provides. Last but not least, go back and review the rules. If there are words that you don’t know the definition of or mechanics that you can’t describe, then look them up and figure out what they mean. The more knowledge you have of the game, the better player you allow yourself to be.
  4. Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends. Honestly, ask for and accept criticism of your play from your friends (and even from your enemies). By thinking through other possible scenarios with your homelys (word, G!) you will learn alternate strategies that you may not have thought of yourself, but may serve you well in the future.
  5. Be Honest. Assess your current ability as a player and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. This will give you an indication of where you need to start improving your game. Once you are aware of your weaknesses, start to address them by putting yourself in game situations where a weakness comes up, and learn the proper play. However, when going into serious competition, play to your strengths.

So there you have it – my take on Scott Johns‘ article,”You Suck.” I think it’s a classic of Magic writing history, and the material is relevant to players of all abilities. Hopefully you do too.

The Magical History bus will return in a few weeks to address my next venture through the wayback machine and into the articles of Magic past. Until then:

You Suck. Now whattayagonnadoaboudit?

Lightning Round

Detroit 7 Colorodo 0. Ugh. I’m an Avs fan and the series was great until that point. Now I feel like I’ve been snowed in.

Congrats to Mike Long on his Nationals Top 8 (and congrats to the rest of the Top 8 as well, but I only know Mike personally). I must say that his performance came as quite a surprise, considering that Lord of the Rings has occupied most of his playtesting time recently. Here’s to hoping that I can get him to comment on it in a future article.

The World Cup has started. At first I was trying to avoid the scoresheets so that I wouldn’t know the outcome before watching the games, but that proved completely impossible as coverage of the event is everywhere.

So far, I’ve watched most or all of six games (I skipped Germany v. Saudi Arabia and Paraguay v. South Africa.) France lost. England v. Sweden was a disappointing draw, but the English were lucky not to lose (was Beckham just tired, or is he more hurt than anyone will admit?) The two best matches so far were Argentina v. Nigeria (soooo much skill. And Batigoal! was thumping the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen,) and Denmark v. Uruguay, which was a hard-fought but well-played game. This week features the opener for the USA (against Portugal) which will have me up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, and England v. Argentina on the weekend. Yum.

Contrary to my Calm Like a Bong article, I’ve realized now that the real drug problem in the Magic community is not pot and it’s not steroids. Nope, the real drug problem in Magic is Ritalin. Ritalin is like the LSD of the Magic world, prompting deckbuilders to reach heretofore unattainable heights of concentration while attempting to break formats. Zev Gurwitz? Ritalin. Brian Kibler? Ritalin. Zvi Mowshowitz? You guessed it… Ritalin.

Here’s a quote from Zvi (with my words in parentheses),”Judgment is the kind of set that makes me want to lock myself in a dark room for several weeks (hyped up on Ritalin), emerging with a broken deck and laughing at various Wizards employees.”

The proof is out there. In fact, I’d say that 50% of your top-notch deckbuilders are users and abusers of that insidious little concentration drug.

Now before all you kids out there decide to emulate the pros and adopt this as your designer drug of choice, let me warn you that prolonged usage of Ritalin will cause you to look like this! Do you really want to travel that road? And that is just a known side-effect. Other side-effects can include dry mouth, nausea, stomach pain, headaches, anal leakage, earwigs (the Wrath of Kahn-mind control kind), red eyes, skin irritation, etc etc etc. Who even knows what the stuff can do to your penis? I mean sure, you will be able to intimidate your opponents with your lack of eyebrows alone, and chicks will swoon at your unique look and style, but could that possibly be worth… nevermind.

Lastly, the complete dearth of good new music lately is taking me and crushing me between its huge badger testicles. Yeah, that’s right, badger testicles. Oh, you haven’t seen Pom Poko? Well badger testicles aside, it’s a mighty solid movie. The addition of fighting furry nads is simply a bonus. I also hear that martial arts styles that incorporate the use of animated badger testicles are some good. Perhaps I’ll start my own style and call it Jeet Nad Do. It will give a whole new meaning to the power of the Wang. I myself don’t have the badger’s special ability, but what can you do but respect talent like that? It’s like that special Sumo retraction skill (ask Ferrett if you don’t know what they can do), except it’s got huge badger testicles! What more do you need?

Back to the music, I’ve been disappointed with most everything I’ve heard lately, and even those that I liked (Patty Griffin, Wilco, Alannis) didn’t set me on fire. The best two albums I’ve heard so far this year are John Mayer’s Room for Squares and the soundtrack for the movie The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The P.O.D. cuts I’ve heard on the radio rock… But is the rest of the album worthwhile? Does Shakira actually have some talent, or is she all about the looks and the booty shaking? I mean I like booty shaking, but it belongs in videos and not on my radio. Is Sony’s copy protection on the Celine Dion CD an act of mercy for geeks everywhere? When is the album collaboration between Rage and Chris Cornell going to be released? How about something new from Springteen? Or maybe Tori Amos? Has anybody heard Josh Clayton Felt’s posthumous release (sad thing that, saw him at a Tori Amos concert and he was amazing. Cancer sucks.) A full new Outkast album would be just what the doctor ordered. When forced to roll stones, I can gather no moss. Or maybe that’s no mas. Speaking of boxing, I need to find a video of Arturo Gatti v. Micky Shea. What a war!

I guess that rambling is a request for music recommendations. If you know of something recent that is really good, send a rec my way, and include what the music style is. I’ll check it out and see if it floats my boat and finds my lost remote, and if I dig it, I’ll give a shout your way for everybody to see.

So yeah, nicknames, contest, You Suck, Mike Long, World Cup, Ritalin, badger testicles, and music.

That would signal the end of this week’s nuts of various varieties. Put your thinking cap on and find me a nickname!

Ted Knutson

[email protected]