SCG Daily – Learning From The Basic Game

After four months’ absence, this is all I can muster. I’m really slipping. Must be all that time hanging around Tim Aten and bathing in a fountain of pure unadulterated apathy. I’ve already learnt better than to try and berate myself in the presence of The Master Himself, and without an avalanche of self-loathing I realized that my writing is completely bereft of content. But I’m assigned to a daily, so I have to try.

Sqwhatup, squitty.
Lil’ Wayne

Yep, after four months’ absence, that’s all I can muster. I’m really slipping. Must be all that time hanging around Tim Aten* and bathing in a fountain of pure unadulterated apathy. I’ve already learnt better than to try and berate myself in the presence of The Master Himself, and without an avalanche of self-loathing I realized that my writing is completely bereft of content. But I’m assigned to a daily, so I have to try. First, though, the most important thing:

Namedrop Section.

I know this is actually the only reason anyone reads my articles anyway, so might as well get it out of the way first.

Gerry Thompson (obv.)
Cody Peck
Clan Childress
Alex Kim (this hurts soooooo bad, you don’t even know)
Jack Cooke
Steven Strasberg
David Glore
Kyle Sanchez (sahn-)
Derrick Sheets (grats on the Q, brah)
Richard Feldman (IT’S GO TIME!!!!) ((best 2HG PT Partner EVER))
JP Smee
Tim Galbiati
Tim Kopcial (shout-out to Sicky Gnar-Gnar)
Troy Rumans
Matt “Cheeks” Hansen
Brandon Scheel (who is top-8ing Kobe, btw)
Bill Stark
Cedric Phillips
Ogre (nice angel)
Nick Eisel
Matt Schmaltz
Luis Scott-Vargas (more grats)
Paul Cheon (uber-grats)
And, of course,
Mike Krumb.

Who probably wanted to shoot himself when I made the finals of that Grand Prix, because I sure played brilliantly in our match. Check this out. So your opponent swings with a guy, and you can either a) block with a non-flier and two-for-one yourself to the on-board Elvish Skysweeper, or b) block with a flier and not two-for-one yourself to said on-board trick. Which option do you choose? Well, dear readers, your intrepid and beloved narrator certainly elected option “a”. Skillful play, I am told. Obviously I lost that one. But, as they say, better lucky than good…

I can’t believe I just wrote a namedrop section into this column. Why on earth does anyone read me, anyway?

Stunning realization:

Wait, they don’t.


So shockingly enough I do plan on getting to some content eventually. I’m hoping to have the trimmings of a GP report later on in the week, since I am entirely too lazy to pen an actual one and conjure up enough material for this daily series. I’ve also got a CS-CS-CS draft handbook mulling around in my mind, since nobody except Ravitz to my knowledge has worked one up yet, and it may or may not have been incomprehensible due to the sheer abject hatred for humanity that seeps in between the letters of every single word he utters. It’s probably much better than anything I can scrounge together, but then again it’s Premium. So y’all get to settle for the scraps shunned off the table by the weird guy with ratty hair that really needs to shave. But hey, I’ve lost a grand total of one match of sanctioned Coldsnap booster draft, and have coached 2 people to PTQ victories, so that means something, right? Right? Cue crickets.

Y’all like that deft preview section about what’s forthcoming on the horizon to try and distract you from the fact that I actually haven’t said anything yet? Man, those journalism classes sure come in handy.

Oh, I’ve also got a “spotlight” section for Friday where I talk about the best Magic players that no one has ever heard of, but probably ought to have. Because, you know, everybody loves lists. And I love barning my friends. Especially Richard Feldman, whom (because is much better and more popular than me) I can hopefully barn readers from. Fingers crossed.

For today, though, I want to take note of a curiosity I observed at Nationals. It actually made me understand more than anything else in recent memory exactly how to pinpoint a determining factor in a certain format, and (because of how basic of an example it was) seemed to clearly illustrate something I’ve been trying to grasp for a long time.

So I am sitting around at Nationals more or less taking the piss out of Alex Kim who was enamored with his ability to 2v2 draft, despite the fact that no real people actually play that format. Notice I am not playing at Nationals, since my 9 Pro Points do not in fact equate to 10 Pro Points, and I am obviously too stainsy to grind in despite having a completely insane deck. I’m waiting on Tim or Cody to hurry up and lose so that they could drive me to Gretchen’s (there’s another namedrop) when I hear a familiar call from across the room:


Though perhaps more familiar for being the catch-phrase of a certain obnoxious Crocodilephile, it’s also well known around Memphis parts for being the favorite exclamation of the Childress clan when they notice something worth d*cking around with. In this case, they had stumbled upon a “Play Magic!” demo table and were tearing up the room with their mad introductory game preconstructed deck battling skills.

In case y’all are unfamiliar with the set-up, when Wizards staff teach people to play Magic, they sit down across from them with two pre-made decks. One is R/G, the other is U/W. The decks contain a bunch of creatures with no abilities, Volcanic Hammers, Lava Axes, Vengeances, and Sacred Nectars.

Now, none of us had any money to speak of, so obviously we start shuffling up the cards. Soon, blazing cutlery is flying overhead as octopi crash into giants and Enormous Baloths tower over the battlefield like angry skyscrapers as poor old Eager Cadets look on in alternating bouts of shame and awe. Many a Vizzerdrix was windmill-slammed in triumph that day. But, overall, the R/G deck kept winning.

For awhile, it just seemed like it was the better deck, and being an inquisitive little critter I absolutely had to find out *why* it kept raking in the Ws. As I watched, however, I noticed that something entirely different was going on.

I asked Jesse to take the helm. He muttered something incomprehensible, probably along the lines of “Hey, sorry I drank all your Jose without telling you so that you awkwardly had to present an empty handle to your guests when they arrived at your party – and also, while I’m at it, sorry for proceeding to spout idiotic drivel for the rest of aforementioned night.” Well, maybe that’s just me dreaming. But he got up, and I sat down behind my army of Octopus, and I started winning. And winning. Chase “got it” pretty quickly, and the RG deck started taking games again, but what was the deal? Was I just real lucky?

I mean, surely in such a rudimentary, basic setup, there can’t be any play skill involved whatsoever, right?

Well, no, obviously.

The secret was simply this: under no circumstances would I let my 1/1s and 2/2s trade with other 1/1s and 2/2s. They either chump blocked, died to a Volcanic Hammer, or killed bigger guys, no exceptions. I stuck to this, and suddenly my opponent’s trumps weren’t trumps – at least until he realized the exact same thing and would either force trades or exchange his little men for mine likewise. But the point is this: every format has its determining factor. In this one, it happened to be size. The man with the biggest, err, men left on the table always won. So you do what it takes to have the bigger man. In Constructed terms, 6/6s and 7/7s broke the format. Even in the most basic of situations, you could adapt your play style to generate wins assuming you figured out how to play well in the first place.

As I’ve explained millions of times, playing correct Magic is not simply remembering all the Fangtail activations and spotting all the on-board tricks. You have to develop a strategy, and it seems that sooner or later every format has a more-or-less-clearly defined strategy that takes precedence over the others. That is, the closer you can be to following it, the more likely it is that you’ll generate wins. Perhaps most importantly, it’s actually impossible to play correctly if you don’t understand that strategy in the first place. You can play each individual turn without ostensibly making any mistakes, but because the whole of your actions don’t lead anywhere you’re bound to lose.

To illustrate this with a real-world example, what is the dominant strategy in RGD draft? Well, it seems to have wound up being that you need to have access to more trump cards at one time than your opponent**. This is due to a variety of things – the comparatively high availability of removal, the necessity of setting up a strong manabase, the dearth of quality aggressive decks that punish you for waiting awhile to start casting spells, and the ability to play almost every bomb you open – but the point is that you are going to need to cast more spells than your opponent, and those spells need to be relevant. In other words, you often win by casting the Wakefieldian “last fatty that gets ‘em.” This stands in stark contrast to, say, Coldsnap, where you don’t have as many trump spells to begin with (big guys, mass removal, undercosted evasion) and decks on the whole are faster or at least can kill you in a more focused, streamlined fashion. So you can start to see why things like Karoos are so good (they simultaneously increase the threat density of your deck and give you more mana with which to cast big trump spells) and why Compulsive Research is the best common in Ravnica (digs to the relevant threats and gives you more of them). I mean, I understand that there is much more to Ravnica draft than slinging giant spells, but think of just how many games you’ve lost to large wurms and I think you’ll begin to catch my drift.

Stay tuned. Maybe tomorrow you’ll actually be reading content! I mean, like Foe Hammer, you know our motto: We Deliver!


*I haven’t actually spent *that* much time around Tim; I just enjoy high-fiving him in front of crying Asians and seething at the fact that he’s much better at 1) battling with Magic cards and 2) typing letters than I am. That, and teaming up with the Ridiculous Hat himself to piss the man off and earn more namedrops in Mr. Aten’s ever-more-infrequent columns.

**Yes, I know this is an oversimplification. And I also know about the blaze-out-of-the-gates Red decks. I have drafted them, and they’re real good. But they aren’t the dominant archetype, or even the dominant variety of archetype.