Playing, Drawing, and New Gifts for Old

Jeroen tackles an age-old question… in draft, is it better to play or draw? And how is this answer affected by the Ravnica Limited format? He also looks at Dissension with an eye on updtaing the classic Gifts control deck of Kamigawa fame… with a cameo appearence from Frank Karsten! All this and more, available with a single click…

Hey all. I’m back again with the next instalment of the article series that started out being called Ask Jeroen, but now gets its own little title each time. Just see it as my own column without a steady title, since that Ask Jeroen stuff looked icky. Maybe one day we’ll do a contest to see if y’all can come up with a nice new name for these articles. I mean, who wouldn’t want to win a signed Pro Player Card…

Enough of that, let’s get on with the show.

One of the big topics in the forums after last week’s article was that people seemed to disagree with my “play first” attitude in this format. I still think they are wrong and I am right, and with me is every pro I ever talk to, so I’ll try to make it clearer. Here’s a list of reasons why playing first is the thing to do:

The Bounce Lands.

I already mentioned this last week, and I still feel they are one of the best reasons to go first. Going first, without playing a spell before playing a bounce land on turn 2, means that you will not have to discard. This, therefore, actually nets you an extra card, negating the fact that you started and were down by one. On the draw, playing one of these turn 2 will mean that you will have to discard, meaning you gained almost nothing from your card advantage land. The same is true when you don’t have that many lands yourself, as your opponent will want to reap the same benefits.

The way you draft your deck.

Since this format is all about card advantage, often you will draft your deck with card advantage in mind. This means that if a game develops normally you will be able to gain card advantage during the game, and win that way. It also means that the only way for you to lose is being outdone by card advantage – which does not happen that much in the games you play – or by tempo. Playing first negates one of the ways to lose – namely the tempo way – as you will be a turn ahead of your opponent.

Games hardly ever last long enough for the one card to matter.

Most games finish around turn 8, and at that point (most of the time) players still have cards in their hands. This means that the extra card you drew will often not have mattered much. Saying that you get one card deeper to reach that Savage Twister might appear very relevant, but when you do the math, it hardly matters at all. That Savage Twister could just as easily have been in the top seven cards, or bottom two cards, of your deck.

It’s only one card.

Games are decided when you gain a lot of card advantage, like playing two bounce lands and a Compulsive Research… and even then, if those cards drawn are just the extra lands that weren’t needed anyway, you gain nothing. This seems weird when all you hear is how good card advantage is in this format, but when your opponent can get back that card advantage so easily, it was not worth it to draw first.

I hope this makes it all a little clearer, as it is pretty tough to explain. To me and my fellow pros it seemed very clear that drawing is not an option, and though the comments in the forum made me doubt myself for a while and ask questions, I am now 100% sure I am correct. Here are some comments by Anton Jonsson and Johan Sadegpour, who were the first ones I asked:

Anton: Drawing first 🙁
Anton: The only way you draw first is if you don’t have bouncelands and aren’t two-color.
Anton: Because then your deck sucks anyway, so mise well try to get lucky.
Jeroen: But your opponent might have bouncelands, so he wants to play.
Anton: If you’re lucky, your opponent is mulliganing 🙁
Sadeg: I still go first.
Anton: If my deck is terrible it can’t win even if he has to discard when he plays his bounceland. I’m not counting terrible RGW, of course… because then you have to try and be fast too. So, all-in on drawing Forest, Mountain, Plains, and never more than 5 lands. But if you have GBW random dudes.dec, no bouncelands, maybe even a discard spell or two, and sh** mana… I’d go second then.

On to the questions!

Anthony Avenso sent me the following:

Forget deck protectors... pack surge protectors

1) A certain writer at this site (hint: his last name rhymes with tores) claims Sakura-Tribe Elder to be the best card in the Standard environment. By best, I can only assume powerful; I believe it to be Gifts Ungiven, but that’s neither here nor there. My question however is, how do you go about truly understanding power levels of specific cards in Magic. There is so much interaction involved in this game… for example: Cranial Extraction is potentially unbelievably powerful, but not against Zoo. On the same token, Wrath of God is dead against Heartbeat. Both are genuinely considered powerful, but both are absolutely dead in certain situations.

First of all, “best” does not mean “most powerful.” Some of the most powerful cards in the game just don’t come close to being the best, for a number of reasons. Maybe there is not a deck that is right for them, or they do not fit in the current metagame, or they just cost too much. This is what is basically wrong with the cards you are naming right now, and why they are not the best in the current Standard environment. Gift’s Ungiven only fits in one very specific deck, which, at this moment, is not even that good. This means that though it is very powerful, it is not one of the best cards in Standard right now. Cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Loxodon Hierarch are amongst the best cards in the format because they fit into a whole bunch of decks, and help their respective decks a great deal. They have a huge impact in their games, and make the decks they are played in much stronger.

Gifts Ungiven: the purple Toblerone.

Sakura-Tribe Elder is played in all kinds of decks, and (despite the fact that I do not agree with this writer here) I feel that is a very good card, even if its effect is not very powerful. The important part is to see the difference.

2) How would you build a Gifts deck now, having seen the entire Dissension list? Given a full six-set (plus core) compliment (not including Coldsnap)? I believe combo only gets better with more sets, while aggro gets weaker, and control gains power. But what new cards do you see being able to be utilized in a Gifts style combo or control deck? I genuinely am interested in seeing a pro’s thoughts when being introduced to such a new set, and how or what interactions you look for with current metagame tech.

The problem with a deck like Gifts, and the current block, is that the classic Gifts deck was very much centred around the Kamigawa block, with all its interactions coming from there. If you look at the last two sets, the only real impact they have made on the archetype is a couple of dual lands and some utility spells, since the deck’s main interaction was possible because the cards all worked well together. This block is made much the same, with all the cards working well together within their guilds, but not so much with cards like Gifts Ungiven and the Dragons from Kamigawa block.

Without testing, it is very hard to answer this question correctly. I wanted to be sure, though, so I asked the best Gifts player in the World – and good friend – Frank Karsten for his view:

“I looked at the cards specifically in the context of Greater Gifts. First of all, a Breeding Pool and a Hallowed Fountain will be welcome additions for Farseek. Utopia Sprawl could take the place of Farseek, although it has less synergy with Sensei’s Divining Top and it can’t fetch duals. A card like Loaming Shaman, with a nice-filling effect, could make it in as a one-of if a graveyard dependent deck would enter the format. For combo decks, I try to look for cards that interact with the graveyard. Ideas from Dissention include Proclamation of Rebirth plus Kami of False Hope, or perhaps combo trickery with the Eidolons. The Rise part of Rise/Fall could also prove to be a good graveyard recursion effect that gives you some tempo at the same time. Overall, I’m afraid I don’t see many applications for Gifts Ungiven in Dissension.”

Anyway, thank you very much for listening and I hope to see this make your article.

PS: I am loving this series and I hope you keep it going as long as you have time, because from reading your forum posts and other articles it feels like you have more to add in the way of strategy than we readers are often treated to.

Nobody likes a suck-up, but thanks for your kind words… you made it to the article.

Ryan Soh sent this one through [email protected], and it is pretty interesting:

Hi Jeroen,

Here’s my question:

"What goes through your mind when you are playing against an opponent at a Pro Tour? How do you think this is different from the average PTQer?"




I think what really sets apart the PT player from the PTQ player is exactly that: the mindset when you are playing a game. Playing at a PT, I always play each game as if it’s the only game that matters. No matter what record I have, or what my place in the tournament is, I approach the game the same. Every game is just as important as the next, so it is important to approach them like this. It also doesn’t matter who or what your opponent is, as there is no sense in playing scared if your opponent is very good. I have played in many a GP or local tournament where my opponent has literally given up as soon as he sees he is playing me. PT players are not that much better at the game than good PTQ players… they just have a better mindset, and heck, might even be a little luckier.

I have also seen the reverse happen, when people shout out to their friends that they have this one in the bag when they were playing against a kid that looks like he’s fourteen and has no chance of winning… and then, two weeks later, the same kid won Worlds. This, of course, was Julien Nuijten.

The point of all this is that no matter what tournament you are playing or who your opponent is, or what round you are playing, approach every game in the same way: as if it’s the most important game of your life. Forget mistakes as soon as you make them, and just do your best to win. This is also why you see so many pros drop as soon as they are out of contention in any tournament. Without that mindset, they lose a lot of their edge.

That’s it for this week, but stay tuned for next week, as I will be giving one of our own Featured Writers a little competition by writing my own set review. It will be nice to see which cards we’ll agree on.

As always, please send your questions to [email protected], or post them in the forums, as your input is very important to keep these articles going.

As a parting gift, here’s a little thing I’d like to make a regular feature: the ffeJ quote of the week.

Ffej: Got another log for your column
Jeroen: Do you?
Ffej: Yup…
Ffej: Sensitive ffej talking to his friend (who is a girl) after she broke up with her boyfriend.
Ffej: (and I’m multi-tabling RRG at the same time)…

Rachel says: To answer your question, I’ve had my heart broken a million times because I always stick it right out there.
Rachel says: And my first solution…
Jeff says: Porn?
Rachel says: … was to become emotionally uninvolved.
Rachel says: And yes, lots of porn.
Jeff says: Lol.
Jeff says: Caryatid or Brainspoil?
Jeff says: Oops, wrong window.

Jeroen: You, sir, are a gem… a diamond in the rough.