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Safer Waters Part 1: A Month Of Grinding

Tuesday, March 22 – What’s it like to be a true Magic Online grinder? Day in, day out? Trying to make Qualifying Points? Check out Bing’s journal, in which he records his day-to-day activity on Magic Online and which decks he plays.

Wednesday, March 9th

QPs (Qualifying Points) officially start counting for the Magic Online Championship Series, season four. I have until April 6 to accrue 15 QPs to
qualify, and I get a bye for each 10 QP over that, up to three byes. The Championhip is on April 9, starting at the uber awkward 10 pm.

In seasons one and two, I got 45 QP for the full three byes. Season one came down to the wire, but I got number 45 on a 3-1 finish in Momir Basic on
the last possible day. I got lucky in season two by taking down several Premier Events early, so I had time to prepare. As previously documented, I
spent season three focused on non-MODO (Magic Online) activities, including my foray back into paper Magic.

For those non-MODO players, the following is a brief overview of how QPs work. 8-man drafts and Constructed events give one QP to the winner. Daily
Events (DEs) are four-round Swiss (no matter the number of participants) and give three QP to 4-0 players, one QP to 3-1 players. Premier Events (PEs)
are modified Swiss with a cut to the Top 8, giving three QP for making the Top 8, plus one QP for every win thereafter.

I come home from work with just enough time to build a deck before the 8 pm Legacy tournament. I know I want to start testing decks other than
Counterbalance, so I decide on AJ Sacher NO Show list from SCG Edison.

I fill the deck with ten minutes to spare, then dispatch Zoo in a quick, three-game set, so I jump into an MSS draft while waiting for round two to
start. My first draft is a pretty mediocre green affair that has the benefit of a pair of Fangren Marauders but doesn’t have much else going for it,
losing quickly to a quick U/W deck with Precursor Golem/Corrupted Conscience topping the curve. My second draft starts off better with a Corrupted
Conscience into U/W fliers (all while waiting for an Elves/Enchantress matchup to finish) but loses in three games to a Phyrexian Crusader wearing an
axe. I never quite “got” triple Scars draft and definitely don’t have a handle on MSS yet.

Back to Legacy: I beat a U/W tempo fish list with Stoneforges and Fathom Seers and Mangaras and lose to G/W when he has turn 2 Natural Order twice,
although one game, I apparently F6ed despite having the FoW (though was still in the hole, having mulled to five). I don’t even remember F6ing, but
that’s the danger of double-tabling and something I really need to stop doing. I make the money by beating Elves, who awkwardly has to Buried Alive for
Vengevines the turn he has to kill me, but only after he played his second creature for the turn. The list seems pretty strong when you have it, but
your game degrades pretty quickly if you don’t have a quick combo, since you have very few control elements and no real long game.

The DE finishes at 10, which is slightly too late to start another QP-earning events but conveniently just in time for Top Chef. It’s also a
perfect amount of time to build decks for new Standard, starting off with Valakut and the U/W Mystic deck, both with the black and red splashes. It’s
pretty important to have decks ready to go for as many formats as possible; having small windows to play during the week means playing whatever events
are around.

Final Tally: 1 DE (3-1), 2 drafts (0-1, 0-1), 1 QP

Thursday, March 10th

Entered straight “can’t win” territory.

Pauper DE, 8 pm: Played Affinity, which is pretty strong but subject to inconsistent draws, and got the worst of it to a quick 0-2. Mono-Black Rats
weathered my assaults and untapped into Corrupt. Storm just outraced me.

Legacy DE, 9 pm: After talking to Drew Levin about the NO Show list, he shared enough of my concerns that I decide to switch to another deck. Next on
the testing list is a BUG no-Landstill list with the full four Jaces. I lose to a Canadian Threshold deck when I can’t draw lands or Innocent Bloods,
then a SinkholeDark Depths list when I sputter to find a win connection. The list I’m playing has a lot of answers but doesn’t have a solid long game
and doesn’t have a great finisher outside of Jace, showing its awkwardness when he manuals a Dark Depths.

I also blanked two 8-man Standards, getting mauled by Mono Red twice before running out of time to play QP events. My tilt 2-mans net me another loss
to a kind of awful Quest player but a win in Legacy against G/W/B with Mangara and Bob and Mother of Runes. Thank you, Engineered Plague.

Final Tally: 2 DEs (0-2), 2 8-mans (0-2), 2 2-mans (1-1). +0 QP (1)

Friday, March 11th

Happy hour. Came home late and ran a few tipsy 2-mans. Beat Kuldotha Red with U/W/b Mystic; beat U/W Fish with Sneak Attack/Show and Tell; and beat
Cephalid Life with a new BUG control list with Lorescale Coatls, brewed by the eminent Jarvis Yu:

Saturday, March 12th

After a couple weekends of travelling, I’m looking forward to a weekend of doing nothing but watching movies and MODOing.

On the playlist is a series of foreign crime movies all recently added to Netflix On Demand:Mesrine, Carlos, and A Prophet.

I join the 10 am Standard PE with the stock U/W/b Mystic to see how it
works. I think about, but decide against, joining the Momir starting at the same time. While there are no other events I can join for the next few
hours, I don’t want to have to deal with the guaranteed overlapping games. After winning round one in seven minutes, no one’s biting in the Standard
8-mans, so I hop into a draft.

After a p1p1 Slagstorm, I see a Spine, which I take over mediocre other offerings. I get a solid red deck through pack one and find my second color
with a (foil!) Sunblast Angel and then a second in pack three. I have a close call in round one when my opponent nets approximately 20 cards and 60
life with Glissa, Moriok Replica, and Fangren Marauder, but my deck powers through it.

Meanwhile, U/W/b Mystic is going well, having defeated Tezzeret, G/W Quest, and the mirror to a 4-0 start. It’s 1 pm, and I’m just joining round 5, so
it looks like I won’t be joining the 2 pm Standard DE, but there’s a Pauper event starting I can join.

I join with Affinity again, which, while not the best, is probably good enough (?). I take down a mana-screwed mono-blue list while splitting two
matches against Valakut in Standard to lock up a Top 8 slot. My thoughts from my last article were confirmed in that Valakut is
still a very strong choice. Duresses are nice, but I really miss having Tectonic Edges and Spreading Seas. More on that later.

I continue to do well in Pauper, dispatching a Rats deck that had mediocre draws. My Top 8 matches in Standard also go down quickly with some good
draws against Valakut (and luckily, his build had Wurmcoil as the six-drop rather than Inferno Titan) and eking out the race with Creeping Tar Pit in
the mirror (also a place where Edge would be amazing); I then split in the finals.

Having played the crap out of the previous U/B Control deck, I really like the U/W/b list. It has a lot of games that play out Mana Leak into Jace into
Grave Titan like the old list but also has the Stoneforge package and Gideon. The games are varied enough, however, that I don’t really have a good
sense of the deck even after a handful matches. Edges would be great, even if just in the side, but I can’t tell right now what there is room for.

I split the last two matches in Pauper, losing to White Weenie and getting a nut draw in the mirror (Land, Lotus Petal, Springleaf Drum, Gorilla
Shaman, eat your land, go).

Next is the Classic DE at 5 pm. It’s a little bit of a conflict with a Legacy PE at 6 pm, but it looks like it’s going to fire, so I jump in. I’m
playing the following list:


The meta right now is very heavy on Workshop decks, and I wasn’t too happy with this deck before the printing of Blightsteel Colossus. For a format
close to Vintage, the majority of the plays the deck has are pretty fair. Vault-Key and Tinker were the only real broken plays; even Tinker for
Darksteel Colossus, Battleball, or Inkwell is pretty average. I was previously ready to give up on the deck when I had turn 1 land, Mana Vault, Chrome
Mox, Tinker for Battleball, and he had turn 1 Bazaar, turn 2 kill you. Blightteel was a legitimate unfair play.

Classic goes pretty quickly; I beat an Oath player in some non-interactive games due to mulligans, then a Workshop player with a turn 2 Blightteel
Colossus and then Vault-Key. I lose to a Bant fish deck — his Stifles don’t seem too impressive against the field, but then again, they’re good against
me. I lose round four against a Workshop player where I had a chance either to kill a Chalice on one or Lodestone Golem, decided on the Golem to
preserve some life, and then died with a handful of ones when my Trygon Predator got Duplicanted.

The rest of the night is a hodgepodge. I bounce round one of a couple Standard 8-mans with black Stoneforge, losing to the red version and the mirror.

Final Tally: Draft (3-0, 1-1), Standard (PE: 1st, 7-1-1; 8-man: 0-2; 2-man: 0-2), Pauper (3-1), Classic DE (2-2). +8 QP (9)

Sunday, March 13th

There are only a few events and none in the Constructed formats I have decks built for, so I muddle about in 8-mans, going 0-1, 1-1, and 2-0-1. Pauper
starts at 1 pm, and I get to a pretty unnotable 3-1 after losing round one. Standard and Legacy both start at 3 pm, and I join both — Legacy with the
BUG control list above and Standard with a Valakut list similar to the one that just won the SCG Memphis Open; except I don’t really want to buy
Koths and also want to try this new Cyclops Gladiator tech that’s been going around MODO.

Legacy goes well, and I split the finals without dropping a game, winning over NO Bant, G/W/B Rock, and High Tide combo. Go for the Throat is so well
positioned now and a perfect complement to Hymn to Tourach in that it can clean up anything they drop (notably Bob).

Probably the most important skill this deck tests is ordering land drops. With the resurgence of Team America and New Horizons, Stifles are back after
a pretty decent time away. This means that the age-old dilemma of whether to play around Stifle or Wasteland is back. Another consideration is how
often to play around Wasteland with land-light hands. The problem with land-light hands in multicolor decks is the temptation to go straight for the
appropriate duals so that you can play, say, Hymn to Tourach into Tarmogoyf without seeing another fetchland. Of course, this means that you’ll also be
wrecked by a Wasteland. It’s not always incorrect, but I think it’s important to know when you can afford a potential stumble in order not to get blown
out and when you just have to have no fear. (As I finish typing this, Drew Levin is on GGsLive talking about why his deck doesn’t play basics, so I
might have to listen to him here).

The High Tide deck surprised me with its resilience, and I think it’s here to stay. It’s surprisingly hard to disrupt, even with Thoughtseize (I was
able to assemble a quick Tarmogoyf and Hymn to Tourach).

In Standard, I dispatch old U/B Control, the mirror, and Boros with a loss to U/W Mystic. My hope in Cyclops Gladiator was misplaced. It seemed really
hard to land turn 3, and I realized that the Valakut matchup versus U/W Mystic isn’t primarily about Sword but is actually about racing before Jace
locks up the game. So much of your game involves drawing the right level of threats, since you usually need to push through at least one counter or
wrath, but you also need to have a critical mass of ramp spells, so their fatesealing can provide the right amount of disruption as they beat down with
equipped guys. I think Cyclops is in a poor spot where it’s outraced by a sword equip on the draw but also is a little poor for fighting Jace battles.

As mentioned before, Valakut seems strong, especially since Stoneforge Mystics are pulling sideboard slots away from Tectonic Edges and Spreading Seas.
I’m still having trouble, however, ordering spells, and thus I’m having trouble figuring out the right mix of spells. Like, I had a hand of Valakut,
Terramorphic, Terramorphic, Mountain, Khalni Heart Expedition, Harrow, and Primeval Titan. This hand can play turn 2 Expedition but can’t also play
Harrow the next turn without seeing another untapped land. It can also play turn 3 Harrow if I skip turn 2 Expedition. I think the former is still the
right play because Harrow on turn 4 still gets turn 5 Primeval. Looking back at it now, the Expedition is clearly the answer, but I didn’t see it as a
snap decision at the time. (The result was I drew the untapped land and was going to turn 4 Primeval him, except my G/W Quest opponent had a maindeck
Leonin Arbiter, and I got wrecked.)

I join Classic at 6 pm with the Time Vault list and the Momir at 7 pm. In Momir, I’ve been making drops starting at three unless they make a relevant
one-drop. You want to be the first to make eight-drops. Mountains are by far the most useful land, having the fewest drawbacks, while feeding bombs
like Fire Dragon. Swamps are a liability early but generally can be played safely later once most of the swampwalkers are gone and are necessary for
Sanguine Praetor. Islands and Forests can be liabilities late due to Benthic Behemoth and Chorus of the Conclave.

I previously had been an advocate of hitting eight mana with like six Mountains and two Swamps, except I’ve now adopted a strategy on the advice of
Nick Lynn to hit WUBRRRRG, so that you keep any Elder Dragons you hit. The side benefit of this strategy is that if you do hit an Elder Dragon, you can
skip a drop and go for nine, which outclasses eight by a ton. Nine has no auto-losses (as opposed to Denizen of the Deep, which eats your board) and
has a fair number of fat fliers and board control elements (Kuro, Fire Dragon, Blazing Archon). Blue Bringer will ramp you to Emrakul mana while Red
Bringer will end most stalemates quickly. The superiority of nine also mitigates the problem of hitting domain, whereas most of the land-hosers are at
eight.

Classic and Momir both end with 1-2, and the weekend is over.

Final Tally: Standard (8-mans: 0-1, 1-1, 2-0-1, DE 3-1), Pauper (3-1), Legacy (3-0-1), Classic (1-2), Pauper (1-2). +6 QP (15)

Wednesday, March 16th

Went out Monday and Tuesday, so no MODO. On the docket tonight is the Legacy DE at 7 pm and Standard at 8 pm. I’m to leave work with enough time to get
home in time to join, but my boss calls right as I’m packing up and waylays me for about ten minutes. The subway ride home is comical:

(6:41:33 PM) llarack_: how far are you prophone

(6:42:10 PM) prophone: ten, fifteen

(6:42:17 PM) prophone: gonna be close

(6:42:58 PM) llarack_: i put up the 4 gftt for trade alraedy

(6:45:05 PM) prophone: prob won’t have time to get vores

(6:46:42 PM) prophone: three more stops

(6:48:26 PM) prophone: two more

(6:48:45 PM) prophone: think this’ll happen

(6:49:18 PM) llarack_: average time between stops is 2 minutes

(6:49:19 PM) llarack_: it seems

(6:49:54 PM) Basilisk: are you livechatting your subway stops

(6:50:05 PM) prophone: yes

(6:50:12 PM) Basilisk: you’re almost at your next stop!!!

(6:50:16 PM) Basilisk: press f3 to remove all stops

As the chat log suggests, I wanted to cut Coatl for Terravore, since it’s usually huge, despite being another graveyard-dependent creature; also,
Jarvis has my Go for the Throats. I get home at 6:56, load the MODO update, log in at 6:58, get my Go for the Throats at 6:59, load my netdeck twice
(since MODO can never find it the first time around), and hit “join” just as 6:59 flips to 7:00, and…… nothing happens. I flip back to the Daily
Events screen to see that the event only has 13 of the 16 needed to fire. Round one casually starts five minutes later.

I take down a quick round against Ad Nauseam Tendrils, although I had an interesting situation game one. I win the roll, and my turn 1 Thoughtseize
sees the following: City of Traitors, Mox Diamond, Preordain, Duress, Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam, Lion’s Eye Diamond. (Thank you, die roll.) My hand is
Hymn to Tourach, Tarmogoyf, Lorescale Coatl, Spell Pierce, and lands.

I take the Mox Diamond, both to protect my turn 2 Hymn and hopefully to screw him on mana, except I then realize that if he topdecks any black land in
two turns, then all he needs is the Dark Ritual and AN to go off, but luckily, my Hymn hits his AN. I’m not sure I had a better line of play given that
his Mox Diamond would let him take my Hymn, but then again, he needs to discard a City to play it, so maybe it’s not that awful if I take the Ad
Nauseam instead? If I do, he likely Preordains to find mana and has no gas, though I guess with the Mox, a land, the Ritual, and the LED, it means
Infernal Tutor is an out.

I lose round two to the 12-Post deck where he draws seemingly perfectly to pull out from certain defeat. Game two, I punt where I Hymn him pre-combat
out of habit and end up shrinking my Tarmogoyf by one when he discards an Eldrazi. Of course, I manage to hit him to one literally three times over the
next five turns, until he’s able to assemble the Emrakul lock, so I pretty much deserved to lose that one.

Valakut is doing okay in the Standard, albeit much, much slower. I win quickly versus a jank mono-white poison deck, then lose to Vampires when I make
a small punt when I block with my Battlement the turn before I play an Inferno Titan, letting him Bolt it and then untap and Gatekeeper me.

Despite helping to find the Wall of Tanglecord tech, I’m starting to think that it’s no good. It’s redundant with Tumble Magnet; except Magnet can’t be
wrathed or Jaced, and you usually don’t need to hold them off for more than three turns anyway.

Unfortunately, the event crashes after round two, so the event never finishes. This is a good time to editorialize a bit about the state of MODO today.

I am the biggest MODO apologist. When people mention all the seemingly embarrassing MODO bugs that crop up from time to time (Blood Moon and Urborg
come to mind), I retort that there are any number of “bugs” that happen in real-life play due to unnoticed game rule violations, or worse, punted judge
calls (see Chapin’s Counterbalance). When people bring up the stability issues, I note that the software and server have both gotten significantly
better; event crashes are impressively rare for as many events that fire on a daily basis. (In addition, these things happen in real life, too, such as
when SCG Open: Edison was accidentally deleted after round two.) Gameplay bugs are inevitable, and they’re generally fixed pretty quickly. The most
notorious bug these days is the dreaded event-scrolling bug, where if you scroll down the standings, it kicks you back to the top after a couple
seconds. Astoundingly annoying, sure, but at its heart, it’s just a display bug. It’s clear that MODO is on the up and up and for sure out of the
moaning well of yore.

That being said, the day-to-day management surrounding MODO is depressingly poor. Technological problems mean there will necessarily be hiccups now and
then, which is fine. What’s not fine is the constant unforced errors in communications and event management, problems that are completely avoidable and
thus arguably worse.

Many of these things are small enough that they would generally be dismissed if they didn’t happen so often. Prize payouts are published incorrectly
because someone cut and pasted from the previous announcement. 64-man Mirrodin Besieged Prerelease drafts are mistakenly set up as MED1 drafts
following the downtime. The QP totals in the e-mail newsletter a while back are wrong. Lee Sharpe, who is in charge of scraping QP data, says there was
some trouble getting QP data because of new MODO features. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is that even after getting it wrong two weeks running, no one
bothers to spot check it the third time to see if it’s correct before sending it out.

This all culminated in the MOCS season 3 championship. Whoever set up the event set it with a max of 512 players. The problem was that upwards of 550
people had qualified for the event, and it was “full” hours before it was scheduled to start. This is an unmitigated disaster for MODO. MOCS is the
flagship program for MODO and one of the most prominent bridges between the digital and cardboard realms. This wasn’t a technical limitation; it was an
unacceptable lapse of attention. As I said elsewhere, this is the equivalent of Wizards publishing the wrong venue information for a Pro Tour. To make
matters worse, the only representatives present were the ORCs, the lowest level of customer service agent. Like, sure it might be inconvenient to have
a high-level Wizards representative spend his or her Saturday babysitting a MODO event, but when it’s the most important event of the month, you want
someone to be there if something goes wrong.

MODO is still doing awesome. We’re getting awesome events, and the server/client problems of the past are mostly solved, leaving us only to grumble
about how fugly it is. Duels of the Planeswalkers is apparently feeding legions of new players, and Wizards has responded in kind, basically doubling
the number of events that are hosted every week. If MODO is the future of Magic, however, it’s about time they start treating it that way.

[end rant]

Anyway, I wrap up the Legacy DE with wins over Merfolk and Reanimator. I really like this deck and will be tinkering with the mana base and some of the
numbers. I’m interested to see how this compares to the Team America deck; I think I’m a little more comfortable with a Bob/Jace deck, although the
Stifle/Tombstalker variety appears to be the consensus in paper-land.

Final Tally: Legacy DE (3-1), Standard DE (1-1). +1 QP (16).

Summary:

Events Played

March 9th-March 16th

Premiere Events: 1 played (7-1-1), +6 QP

Daily Events: 10 played (19-14-1), +7 QP

Drafts: 4 played (4-3), +1 QP

8-mans: 5 played (4-4-1), +1 QP

Decks Played

Legacy:

NO Show: Narrow focus, so somewhere between metagame specific or not viable

BUGstill (no Landstills): Seemed weak

BUG control: Still working on this but want to play some Team America to compare strengths

Standard:

U/W/b Mystic: Seems strong though there’s lots of discussion regarding what’s the best version. I want to learn this deck but also need to test the
stock version with Tec Edges.

Valakut: It’s not a blue deck, but it’s possible it is or will be best deck, so I’d like get comfortable with it.

Other:

Affinity (Pauper): Meh. It works.

Time Vault (Classic): Ditto, except it doesn’t really work.