SCG Daily – Attack of the Week of Lists, Part 5

Mark rounds off his Week of Lists with a look back at the articles that have particularly pulled his chain. He presents his very own Top 10 Non-Tournament Report Articles… have you read them all?

It’s Friday again, and time for the article about other articles. First, though, let me clean up my mess:

  • From Monday: I guess everyone likes Dark Confidant more than I do. Bob is amazing, yes, but I stand by my claim that Sakura-Tribe Elder is currently the best creature in Standard.
  • From Wednesday: yes, I would rather open all of the uncommons mentioned in that article, especially Ribbons of Night, than Savage Twister.
  • From Thursday: apparently, I am a complete idiot who is in league with the terrorists. At least we can hope this travesty will encourage Tim Aten to write more.

Now on to the list. Last time I did the week of lists, I listed my favorite Magic articles. Ex-SCG editor Teddy Cardgame pointed out that while all of the chosen articles were good, they were almost all tournament reports (which are generally disliked by editors since even the good ones get pretty repetitive after awhile). I realized that there were quite a few non-tournament reports out there that could have made the cut. Enough, in fact, for their own list:

Top 10 Non-Tournament Report Articles

Remember, this is all just one man’s opinion. The only rule is that no article on this list can be a tournament report.

10. Get Big or Die Try … oops.

10. A Grand Prix Toronto Rep … crap.

10. Jumping on the Bearlwagon, ordamn it!

10. Magic University: Tempo is Really Interesting, by Mike Flores

Okay, here we go. I also considered EDT’s seminal Tempo and Card Advantage, but I just like the Flores article a little bit more. Plus, the flank-knight examples just became highly relevant again thanks to the release of Mirage and Visions on MTGO.

The thing about tempo, which makes good articles about it rare, is that it has very few rules. If tempo matters early in the game, why do Ghost Husk and Flores’ R/W aggro deck run so many bouncelands? If lifegain is such a tempo-crusher, how was Tomoharu Saito’s R/W/B deck able to defeat a Loxodon Hierarch deck in the semifinals of Pro Tour: Charleston? There are no easy answers to these questions, but Mike’s fantastic article will at least get you in the right frame of mind for thinking about them.

9. Clear the Land and the Fundamental Turn, by Zvi Moshowitz

This list really would not have been complete without a Zvi article. The problems were that I couldn’t seem to find his archived work on Brainburst, The Play’s The Thing just wasn’t my cup of tea, and the vast majority of Zvi articles for Star City were set reviews (As you’ll see, this list already has quite a few articles that are irrelevant to current formats).

So I went with this classic Dojo article, which introduced the concept of the Fundamental Turn as it applied to people suggesting decks to him based on breaking Clear the Land. It’s fine work; my only problem with it is that it’s quite short. However, Zvi could probably fit a ton of deep Magic insights on the back of a postcard, so that’s not too big a deal.

8. Introducing the Pit Fighter Legends, by Josh “OMC” Bennett

When the release of Onslaught introduced the world to the idea of a six-mana creature with size and abilities that you would normally expect to see on something costing much more, they needed to give these monsters the proper introduction. A simple preview article, of the sort we’re currently seeing with Coldsnap, simply would not do. They needed someone who could capture the proper importance of the event, someone who could dignify these majestic beasts as lords of the fantasy universe in which we simple people like to frolic.

But that guy totally sucked, so they hired Josh Bennett because he can bring the funny. The result might well be the funniest article ever written about Magic. Read it and see for yourself, if you’re not blinded by tears of laughter.

7. An Evening At the CMU “O”, by Nick Eisel

In most of his articles, Nick generally comes off as someone who is doing this for a living: he gets down to business and gives you the tech, with not a lot of in-between. I’m not saying this is a bad thing – it was probably the best way for him to go after getting suspended by the DCI – but it does cause one to lose sight of the fact that he is a gamer just like the rest of us.

That’s why I really liked this article, in which he walks us through a night of drafting with the CMU crew at the Original Hotdog restaurant on the CMU campus. Of course the formats are all irrelevant these days, but that’s not the point. You’ll be reminded of a night of gaming with your friends, if your friends just happened to be all the best players from the CMU area (Mike Turian, Jason Martel, Mike Patnik, etc). I have to admit, after reading this article it was really hard for me to believe that Nick did what the DCI accused him from doing: most cheats have a large degree of contempt for the games they cheat at, and you have to really love Magic to live like this.

6. Lashdraft Incorporated, by Geordie Tait

Mirrodin Block was a Golden Age for draft articles… actually, I guess Ravnica Block is actually the Golden Age, and Mirrodin would have been the Silver Age… whatever. My point is that Aten, Eisel, and Tait were all at the top of their game during that time period. A popular style of article from that time, which we don’t see too much of these days, is the “how to draft deck X”, which was an important sort of article for Mirrodin because many common artifacts could fluctuate wildly in pick orders, depending upon what type of deck you were drafting. For example, the Lashdraft strategy depended heavily on Nim creatures and Slagwurm Armor, which most other decks would not have been caught dead picking.

Of course, triple Mirrodin draft is one of the most irrelevant formats you could imagine these days, but this article still offers lots of useful advice for drafting aggressive decks, such as the importance of “trashy” cards for your draft, if they work well within your strategy. Plus, it’s from Geordie, so you know it will be well-written and very funny.

5. You CAN Play Type I #90: The Control Player’s Bible, Part XXXV: Head to Head With Growing ‘Tog (The Roland Bode Tribute), by Oscar Tan

I guess I should warn you: this is not an easy read. You’ve got to put some effort in. It will take a long time for you to negotiate its details, but if you can get through it you will be deeply rewarded. And that’s just the title!

All kidding aside, Oscar Tan appears to be slinging the precedents these days instead of the spells, but he is probably the man we have to thank for the entire Vintage renaissance, including the Power Nine tournaments. None of it would have happened without Oscar’s long-running column, You CAN Play Type I. A common device from these columns was Head to Head, when Oscar would annotate his Apprentice logs from certain matchups. In this one he plays his version of the famous Weissman Deck against the pre-Gush-restriction Gro-a-Tog deck, regarded as one of the finest control decks in the history of Vintage. His opponent was some then-unknown member of his team named… Stephen Menendian.

4. The Mana Questions, by Noah Weil

If you’re not reading Noah Weil take on MagictheGathering.com’s “Limited Information” column, you really ought to be. The game’s official website has tried for a long time to have a high-quality column about Limited, with varying degrees of success. They’ve finally struck gold with Weil, a long-time StarCityGames writer whose articles were rare, but which always cooked with nothing but gas.

Really, almost all of the articles in Noah’s archive could have made it onto this list, but I chose this one because it deals with a problem which is close to all of our hearts: making correct manabases with our Limited decks. If you have ever been mana-screwed in a draft match – hell, even if you haven’t – then this is the article for you.

3. The Danger of Cool Things, by Chad Ellis *

You may think you have learned the lesson of Cool Things a long time ago, because you are reading Internet strategy sites and maybe you have a premium account somewhere or whatever, but you haven’t. None of us ever have. Take Rich Hoaen Daily Draft from Wednesday (6/28) as an example. A lot of people got on Rich’s case because he took Golgari Rot Farm first and Bramble Elemental third, in each case passing a Shambling Shell. A lot of people (including myself) are taking the Shell much higher than usual these days, because of its interactions with cards in the Dissension pack, like Helium Squirter and Verdant Eidolon.

However, in one case Rich took the best mana-fixing card in the pack (one which he is not likely to see many of, if he is drafting with people of similar skill level), and in the other case he took a five-mana 4/4 creature (again, assuming he is drafting with people as good as he is, he’s not likely to see many of these). It would be nice to do Cool Things with the Shell, but it’s simply better to have important cards for your deck. I myself was going to post and criticize Rich, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Chad’s article was teaching me its key lesson yet again.

2. Untold Legends of the Million Dollar Magic: The Gathering™ Pro Tour, by Jeff Cunningham

What more can be said about this fantastic three-article series, in which ffeJ asks some of the luminaries of the game’s history to tell their favorite Magical stories? Well, we’re all hoping that it will end up being much longer than a three-article series, I guess. Also, Randy Buehler thinks that these are the finest Magic articles he has ever read. Just read them. You won’t regret it.

1. Magic: The Intangibles, by Mike Flores

If you play any game with a random element for money, there is only one lesson you need to learn. Why has Kenji Tsumura won back-to-back GPs? Because he’s learned the lesson. How do people make money playing blackjack for a living, even though the rules of the game favor the house? They learn the lesson. I have never heard the lesson described as well as in this article from Mike, to wit: “I think of Magic [insert the name of some other game if you prefer] as a battle of percentages.” Everything that we do in every game we play should be all about increasing our percentage to win. Assuming you are playing competitively, there is no more important goal.

This article, one of Mike’s greatest, addresses several ways where we as Magic players can increase our winning percentages that we might not have known about before. It’s so good that Mike made room for it in his Deckade book, even though it came out several months after the last article in the last chapter. It’s so good that Teddy Cardgame picked it as the article of the year for 2005, even over Jeff Cunningham opus.

Well, that’s it for me. Thanks for joining me this week and for commenting in the forums. Until next time.

Mark Young

* – Some people bashed me last time for not having any articles by Jamie Wakefield or John Rizzo on my list. I’m sure those people will be back for more, especially since I mentioned Chad’s article, which criticizes Jamie for trying too often for Cool Things. To those people I say, I don’t have a problem with Wakefield or Rizzo. They’re just not my style; I lean a little more towards Flores and Tait. And, after all, this is a list of my favorite articles.