OK, You Got Me. I’m Old and I’m Mean. Or Something.

Magic’s greatest crank succumbs to Flores’s relentless pestering, and finally writes another article! Today, Jon discusses the idea of one correct play, set reviews, pokes fun at Elliot Fertik (again), and goes no holds barred with his opinion of Geordie Tait’s recent theoretical excursions.

Hi kids! Flores and Knut basically forced me to write this through a carefully calculated program of harassment and deceit. For some time, both parties (and a few other secondary participants) have been harping on me to write things, in emails, conversations, article hangs, a plane flying outside my home, and whispered threats in a Moroccan café. As you all well know, my muse is a lazy pile of crap and after forcing him into labor on those set reviews and most recently on Tomfidence, he broke out the window in the pool house and took off for Tijuana. Why exactly he went through the window, I have no idea, since he could have simple walked out the front or back door, but I guess it had a symbolically prison-breakish quality.

In any event, setting aside the harassing emails etc., most recently, Flores asked me an off the cuff question about some of the topical matter contained below, and then said that I should write something about it. I said”sure, maybe, you know how I am,” to placate him, never actually intending to write anything, but the next thing I know, Mike has told Ted that we are doing this article together, and in his Wednesday article claims that I an writing something. So, I can make Mike out to be a liar (not true), or a doofus (Okay, the boat has sailed on that one), or I can (fully against my will) write something.


That’s a toughie.

So, here I am, wavering in front of the computer. My dogs completely freak out, as they tend to do when there is any unexpected noise, or a lack of expected noise, or the postman comes, or someone walks by the house, or fails to walk by the house, or when the wind blows or for a myriad of other reasons. This time, however, the hounds were right on; taped to my front door was a neatly typed paper folded over and wax sealed – very Arthur Conan Doylish – which read as follows:

Write by Friday or that space will be filled with a new card advantage series by GT. This is not a joke.

For emphasis, enclosed were (i) a scrawled list of the types of”card advantage” that were to be discussed including”ACD (arbitrary card advantage)”,”RCD (ridiculous card advantage)””CDC (creative card advantage)”,”EpCA (ephemeral card advantage)”,”PCA (phantasmal card advantage)” and the keystone”RICA (“righteous indignation card advantage”)”, as well as (ii) a photoshopped picture of EDT rolling over in a mock grave.

So, for the sake of my sanity, my health, Flores’ rep, and the Card Advantage gods, here is a bit, though to be honest, I cannot fathom why they want it so much. Extremely flattering, but inexplicable. Also, please forgive me if I have some spelling issues or some such in here; I am not a big deadline guy, and had to rush this to get it to Knut in time for said deadline. Thank you in advance for the indulgence.

I. Flores’ Recent One Correct Play Thing (“I’m Old”)

Recently, Mike discussed the existence of the”One Correct Play” in a given situation, and I think that while this theory is generally correct, it is really probably, in part at least, a product of semantics. This being said, I think it is generally correct if you define your terms right, and in talking about this with Mike we found that we were, per usual, on the same page. One of the interesting tangents than Mike hasn’t gotten around to discussing yet was that if two people are playing the same deck, in the same situation, there is more than one optimal play – but there is only one for each of those people. Okay, that is a little cryptic, so let me illustrate. No, there is no time, let me sum up. Okay, sorry, there is time, I will illustrate.

A long time ago, Derek Rank, a one time Pro Tour regular and a good friend of mine who happened to live in Virginia when I was starting to make my chops (relatively speaking), broke out a deck one day when we were playtesting and said that it was fantastic and I had to try it. I asked him what it was, and he said it was a Browse based counter-burn deck. I declined, being, at that point, strictly a beatdown player (mono-Black speed with Bad Moons was the deck of choice for me at the time). Derek said”well, I need you to play it against me, so I can see how to tune it etc.,” which was a complete lie, designed only to get me to play the deck. Of course, it worked, and I started shuffling up. About ten games later, Derek asked to switch decks, and I said”Nope, you are never getting this deck back. It is ridiculously good and I love it. Go away.” Derek assumed I was joking about the actual”you are never getting it back” thing, but when he went to get beers in the kitchen, I literally ran away with the deck and hid it in my car. Fortunately he had the cards to build another, and we could keep testing.

The deck was Browse-Burn, and Derek and I ravaged the eastern seaboard with it for about four months. Why is any of this relevant to the above question? We’re getting there. Browse-Burn was basically this:

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Incinerate

2 Hammer of Bogardan

4 Pillage

3 Pyrokinesis

4 Force of Will

4 Counterspell

2 Dissipate

1 Power Sink

3 Browse

4 Frenetic Efreet

1 Soldevi Digger

1 Hydroblast*

4 Mishra’s Factory*

20 Other Lands

Derek and I played identical decklists, with the exception of the number of Factories ( I started with four, he started with two and eventually went to four) and the lone Hydroblast. Derek liked it, but wouldn’t cut anything for it, but as anyone who has read my stuff before knows, I am almost never opposed to a 61st card (blah blah blah, I know). The deck was an elegant little wrecking ball, with its sole weakness being the ability to lose to a turn 2 Stormbind, which Derek’s version had no way to remove. I hated playing decks that would lose to a particular card, especially one which was played not infrequently, so I added the Hydroblast and was very happy with it. It was never dead, in that you could chuck it to power up Force of Will and often it served as a twelfth Counterspell.

The Dissipates were necessary to get rid of opposing Hammers and fill a three-mana counter slot, and the Sink was weirdly necessary since, at that time, people would play Circle of Protection: Red with frequency, and you would need to either (i) counter it, (ii) win with Mishra’s, or (iii) Sink ’em out, and kill ’em in one fell swoop. Okay, there is a fourth way (which is arduous, but which I had to do at least twice), that comes via recursing Pillage to kill every single one of your opponent’s lands so they cannot power the circle, but the Sink made things much simpler.

All of this is a little beside the point however. The comment that made Mike (and I guess Knut, by extension) blackmail me into writing this bit is that Derek was watching me play a match, and after I had won (really much more a testament to the power of the deck than my dubious play skills), mentioned that I played the deck so much differently that he did, and that he would have approached the game in a much more passive, control-ish way.

Perhaps the most illustrative play difference would be something like this: It is turn 3. You have Island, Island, Mountain on the board, and Frenetic Efreet, Counterspell, Dissipate, Land, Bolt, and X in hand. Do you (a) cast the Frenetic Efreet, or (b) sit on your hand, content to use your counters (if necessary) and wait until turn 5 to cast the Efreet, so you can counter at any time.

Well, If you answered (a), you are me. If you answered (b) you are Derek. Who is right? Setting aside other factors for the sake of simplicity, both of us are.

To be fair, a bit of an apology is required here. When Flores was reading this article, he said”Becker, that is silly, setting aside those other factors, we have said we your play is almost always correct. Why would Rank do that?”

Derek too used this approach because, as he explains it,”the passive approach was more of a PTQ attitude, where I expected to meet worse players and (i) being a better player than most of my opponents, I usually benefited in a longer game, rather than being hurt by it, and (ii) the average PTQ player at the time played a lot of unexpected cards and in weird ways that you might not expect from them, so I wanted to err on the side of caution and play a very control-ish game.” Derek commented that I was used to practicing and playing with generally only high tier players (on my old team, Tongo Nation) where it behooved me to minimize their number of turns and force an issue – give Mike Long or Dave Mills thirty-five turns, and they will almost always beat you, but if you can force them into eight or ten turns, you have a much better shot. This theory worked pretty well for Rank at the PTQ level, as he was able to repeatedly qualify, but Derek admitted that it probably hampered him at the PT level, where he was beaten by a better average caliber of player for, perhaps, playing too passively.

How does this work with respect to the One Correct Play theory? The reason both of us are right is that we have different plans. My plan is an aggressive one; I want to get a clock on the board and limit the number of turns my opponent has to come up with answers. Derek’s plan is a passive one. He aims to control the board and eventually beat you down with a difficult-to-handle threat that he can protect, if need be, but to otherwise thwart your attempts to change the game state from the one he has established.

In ancient terms, Browse-Burn is a hard-soft deck – that is, it isn’t wholly aggressive (like mono-Black speed or mono-Green used to be (a”hard” deck)), and it isn’t all counters and card drawing with a single (or very limited) long-term course(s) to victory like a Draw-Go deck (the ultimate”soft” deck); rather it straddles the middle. Historically, a hard deck beats a soft deck and loses to a hard-soft deck. A soft deck beats a hard-soft deck and loses to a hard deck. A hard-soft deck beats a hard deck and a loses to a soft deck.

Browse Burn was flexible enough to break this mold. I played traditionally emphasizing the”hard” part of the hard-soft model (Hard-soft), but had the option of playing Rank-style if I came up against a super-soft deck. Rank played the opposite way (hard-Soft), emphasizing the control-ish side of the model, but had the option of turning up the heat if it was necessary and he wanted to get on the aggression plan. Whether any given play was”Optimal” depended not solely on the play itself, but on the plan we were executing.

Now, a lot of decks cannot do this. Some decks are simple incapable of executing such radically different plans, and instead have to decide between shades of grey. In this sort of case, you might have picked the right play for your plan, but ultimately have either (i) picked the wrong plan, which makes all your plays wrong, in the big scheme of things or (ii) be playing the right plan, but simply not have a deck which has a”good” plan against your opposition, in which case you are choosing the best of a bunch of not so great options, but one of which is hypothetically”Correct” for you, given your plan.

At least one of our friends believes that there is only one right plan, and thus always only one right play. If you pick the wrong plan all your plays are wrong, and there are no decks that have more than one”right” plan. Derek thinks that generally, there are multiple”right” plans, and thus multiple right plays a deck can make, but the”Optimal” play is based in large part on your plan. I think I tend to agree with Derek and Mike, in general. However, I think there is an issue of overriding importance that has not been specifically addressed. Maybe you have guessed it by now – when you are playing, you need consider not only what your play is at any given time, but also what your plan is. How do you plan to win? This is even more vital in Limited than Constructed.

In Constructed, you build the deck from all the available parts and thus pick your plan or plans as part of your overall deck design; though you should know which option you are pursuing, if your deck has more than one, at all times. In Limited, you have to work with much more quirky parts, and face much more quirky parts, and thus you need to figure out how you can win most of the time.

For example, I was playing 888 on Magic Online the other day. I was Green (as I almost always am, for beasts and mana fix/acceleration – ok, and spiders, which I love. Love em. No one likes the spiders more than me. I have played Constructed with spiders. It physically pains me to not take a spider.) Red with a smattering of removal, and was playing against a White/blue/green guy with a lot of flyers, a Chastise and a Wrath of God. Over the course of game 1, we got almost all the way through our decks, and I got to see that it was likely that (i) his only three removal spells were Wrath, Pacifism, Chastise, (ii) he had no way to breakthrough, other than a flyer swarm, and (iii) the Green was primarily for a bunch of Moss Monsters and a couple of spiders to be walls, while he flew to victory.

In my deck, I had a lot of big men (which he could gang block, or counter, or Chastise) a Volcanic Hammer, a Shock, and a Rushwood Dryad, with a second Dryad in the board. As I saw it, I could win with either Rushwood Dryads or a big animal swarm. While he had formidable defenses, Craw Wurms and Spined Wurms (especially if backed up by a Disciple) will eventually take enough of his animals out that I could win. But there was that Wrath. I couldn’t swarm until the Wrath was gone.

So, my plan was keep creature parity, but be willing to extend perhaps one creature too many to encourage the Wrath or sneak a few extra points of damage through, but to generally, the plan was to beat solely with a Dryad if the board was stalled until it was dealt with. In each of games 2 and 3, this is exactly what happened. I beat with whatever animals I had until defenses were established and played only one of the Dryads unless and until it was dealt with. I made a tempting target for his Chastise with a busty Giant Growthed Craw Wurm (to save a number of blockers and gain nine life) to protect the Dryad coming the next turn. When he Wrathed, I followed with more animals and the second Dryad. Even though his cards were quite good, having a good plan made my decisions much much easier.

So what is the point of all this drivel? Is there One Right Play? Well, yes and no. The point, I guess, is to figure out what plan you are executing and then find the correct play for that plan. Some people may feel like the plan is”win” and the One Best Play is whatever makes you the most likely to do that. However, it seems more reasonable to me to think of winning as the ultimate goal, with the plan we are talking about being the road to victory.

II. Set Reviews

Among the petitions for me to write something was one from one of my favorite people/Magicians (or is it former Magicians?), and one of the best writers I know, John Shuler. So here ya go, John.

Folks, when you write a set review, please have the”brasos” to take a freaking position of the cards. For example if you were writing about an artifact called the Cosmic Canoodler, please don’t say”The Cosmic Canoodler is an interesting card. It might be pretty good, but I am not sure, since I haven’t tested it, but it also might be a little too expensive to see Constructed play. If it is good, I am sure someone will find out, and if they do, just remember, I told you first that the Cosmic Canoodler was good. Or not.” Just balls it out and say it is good or not. Give some reasons too, for a change. Will you get made fun of when you are wrong? Sure thing. What will it feel like? Something like this:

Can you believe that [author name="Geordie Tait"]Geordie Tait[/author] said this?

Mirari’s Wake



Creatures you control get +1/+1.

Whenever you tap a land for mana, add one mana to your mana pool of any type that land produced.

The land drank power from the Mirari as though it had thirsted for it forever

Nope; sorry. Would you want to rip this off the top when you’re in desperate need of answers? At 1GW, it would be a very strong card. The extra two mana just ruins it. In other words, it fails the Morphling test… It costs five, it better win you the game, or be Morphling. Or both.”

Or that Elliott Fertik said this?

Oath of Druids

Enchantment {1G} EX-R

During each player’s upkeep, if that player controls fewer creatures than target opponent, the player may reveal cards from his or her library until he or she reveals a creature card. The player puts that creature into play and all other revealed cards into his or her graveyard.

Sealed: **

Constructed: **

Since when does Green have less creatures than any other color?! Among the worst of the Oaths.”

But what did GT and Elliot have in common? They took a shot at it. Which one has to respect. Giggle at and make fun of, yes, but also respect. So please, intrepid set reviewers, take a position, or don’t bother reviewing. I mean, come on, you have to be used to criticism, right? You posted on the freaking internet. What is the internet other than (i) a forum through which people can anonymously insult you, your thoughts, and your work in a totally unconstructive and unsupported manner and (ii) a handy way to look at pr0n.

III. Monsoir Tait (“I’m Mean”)

I did, in fact read your article. I just made what retrospectively might have been a hasty decision to respond briefly in the forums because your article bothered me so much that I felt compelled to say something, but I didn’t want to waste an hour and a half of my life coming up with a considered response, and getting into a pissing contest. As far as your not liking what I had to say, or hitting hard, or finding me to be hurtful or cruel, I find it hard to believe that you could possibly be so hypocritical. You, of all the people I know, are the least reluctant to open both barrels on someone whose comments you don’t like, or whose article you don’t agree with.

For example, you made an entire article bashing one guy. In the forums, you have offered such considered responses to criticism about and/or questions regarding your articles as:

“Wow, you just blew my mind! Thanks for the tip, Sherlock! Do you have any other astounding Magic deductions to fire into this forum, or are you spent for the day?”

“No, you’re the one who is wrong. Don’t try to tell me what’s what when I’m the guy who invented this system.”

“PCA only counts”real” cards for a reason. I’m sick of repeating myself.”

“Also I’d like to point out that your name rhymes with”Mr. Boner.”

/me stretches and puts his feet up on the desk Check…mate!'”

“Quick note though – for someone who doesn’t speak English you’re coming along quite well with your condescending and smart-aleck remarks. Keep up the good work. Ass.”

So, while I was in one way regretting not spending an hour and a half or more of my life constructively criticizing your article, which I did not think warranted such an investment of my time, I felt much better at having posted my general thoughts that your theory is at best neutral (that is, does nothing positive to anyone’s game), and at worst, damaging, in that unless precise values can be assigned, will lead inexorably to poor trades (from a mathematical perspective) while distracting people from simply using their bean to analyze things in an abstract way. But in either case, you spend twenty pages describing a theory that you, yourself, basically (though likely inadvertently) dismiss by saying that everything has to be considered in light of the game state.

What that means on its most extreme level – since you like to use extreme examples – is even if this is the mathematically worst trade in the world, if it wins you the game, make it, or if it is the mathematically best and it loses you the game, don’t. On a more practical level, this means that whether or not the Tait”system” tells you a trade is good or a bad, you should still look at it from a non-math point of view and generally decide for yourself whether it’s a bad trade or not, by, um, using your bean.

So, you are asking us to use your theory to analyze something instead of using our noggins, but then, when we are done doing that, we are supposed to use our heads to figure out if your theory is right, and whatever our heads tell us is right, to do that.

How ridiculous does this sound?

Don’t do”A”, but do complicated”B” instead! Then do”A,” and if”A” tells you something other than”B,” then do”A.” Geordie, why shouldn’t we do”A” to start with? Oh, because that would mean that you don’t get to force your personal stamp on the card advantage theory playbook of all time greats or whatever you want to call it.

Do I think you have the theoretical mind to write this stuff? Honestly, my answer is no. Might you develop it, and become a great theorist? Sure, you might. But while I was party to the evolution from Tait: Never Written to Tait: Writer, through the Daily Shot process, and then again witness to the next evolution of Tait: Writer to Tait: Really Good Writer with Interesting Topics and a Great Style through the next year’s worth of stuff, you are now trying to force me (and others) to witness the proposed evolution from Tait: Guy That Writes Stuff That Everyone Loves and Wants to Read to Tait: Wicked Smart Theorist. Well, I don’t much care to watch it, and I seriously doubt that it will be a successful one. Look, am I saying you don’t have a right to grow and evolve? No, of course not. But what I am saying is that if you decide to undergo this process in the public eye, you can expect the process to be a painful one, not necessarily a fluffy supportive nest. Why? Because at least some of us like your writing how it is. Or was. You replied to my forum post by saying, in part:

“Your response was asinine, dripping with the view that I’m not good enough to write about these things, that I should hang up my thinking cap and go back to jotting paragraphs about road trips and my lost innocence as a player.”

You, my friend, have hit the nail on the head. I don’t think your theory is good. I don’t think the article is useful. I do think the article’s”Teachings” are at best useless and confusing and at worst, harmful. I don’t want you to write what I find to be crappy theory articles. I do want to read your stuff on road trips and tournament experiences and witty humor and a jillion other things that I think you do well. Frankly, I am surprised that you minimize and essentially belittle the very articles that many feel are your best work, and let your fans to think of you as a talented writer by characterizing them as random”jottings” as opposed to quality writing.

You are welcome to keep your thinking cap on, but if you make me read it, rest assured that I probably won’t like it, and I probably will be vocal about calling you out. Will my criticism be thought provoking and helpful to you? I don’t really give a rat’s red ass. I didn’t compliment you (in my comments in the forums and again above) to soften the blow of criticism. I complimented you because I think you are a talented writer. If you review my posts and the like, you will notice that I don’t give out many compliments; if you don’t want yours, or don’t want to take it at face value, that is up to you. Let’s be clear though, that I am more than willing to levy criticism without sugar coating it, if I think that such is warranted, and I fully expect others will do the same with (or for) me.

Do I”have” to read your articles? I guess not, but I generally like your articles and want to read them. That is, until recently, when you have decided that you need to undergo another evolution, and involve the community in the process.

Also, as far as the pot calling the kettle black, you don’t see me poking my nose into standard Constructed articles much, do ya? That’s because it’s not my thing. I probably wouldn’t end up helping anyone much, except maybe from some ephemeral theoretical point of view (rather than from an actual construction standpoint). Does that mean that I can’t write one? I guess I could, but if I did, I would almost assuredly get a bunch of responses telling me that I was a boob (well, probably in less nice terms) and they would probably be right.

What do I do well? Complain, I guess. Not very marketable I’m afraid, but it seems that, fortunately for me, when I get motivated enough to crow about something a fair number of other people share my frustration. I don’t think this is an exception, but if I were wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time.

A while ago, I wrote an article called”You Stole 40 Seconds of My Life and I Want It Back.” Geordie, your tab is at around forty-six minutes and running.

So. Lovable curmudgeon? I guess it turns out I am just old. And mean. Or Something.

Thanks for your time; comments and criticism welcome at [email protected].

Jon Becker

Tongo’s Counsel