SCG Daily – Style and the Magic: The Gathering Genome

As promised, here are the seven traits which I feel dictate one’s individual style as a spell slinger. No one attribute is solely definitive, as I feel every player displays at least two or three, and in varying degrees.

Thursday’s here! I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. I am probably full up to my eyeballs in ricotta cheese and watching my wife get all misty-eyed over Drew Bledsoe by now. She thinks he’s the hottest thing ever, which has always baffled me. It’s gotta be the football pants… or the way the football pants make you… look. Anyway.

As promised, here are the seven traits which I feel dictate one’s individual style as a spell slinger. No one attribute is solely definitive, as I feel every player displays at least two or three, and in varying degrees. Some will be dominant over others in a player; some will be recessive. Hey look! I’m Gregor Mendel.

The General
The General wants to defeat the opponent with creatures and damage. Sure, so does every Magic player. Jim, you’re an idiot! Oh ho! There’s more to it than that, though. The General is an absolute genius at managing his resources (his troops, if you will). He knows whether to send that burn spell at the face or to clear a blocker. Since the decks he plays don’t tend to have much card advantage built in to them, every play needs to be close to optimal. Limited specialists have a lot of the General in them, as the play of Limited Magic tends to focus mostly on optimizing combat situations. As an aside, the aforementioned Goblin player earlier in the article is Charlottesville’s own Andy “Gibb” Hall, the most naturally gifted General I have ever seen play the game. He has made countless Pro Tours on the back of the attack step, but has faltered when given anything else. The General lives to swing and loves to send his men once more into the breach.

Examples of famous players who possess / possessed this trait: David Price

The Mathematician
The Mathematician is an expert at deck tuning and streamlining, cutting unnecessary chaff and finding out exactly which cards are best in each matchup. He is acutely aware of percentages and outs, knowing what he needs to draw and when. The Mathematician often thinks a few turns ahead. He is fundamentally sound, knows all of the current rulings and errata, and is a master of using phases and manipulating the stack. All of these skills naturally lend themselves to combo, and the Mathematician loves to play combo decks and enjoys the intellectual “puzzle” element that they present. The Mathematician usually knows his own deck far better than he knows the other decks in the format, but that is not necessarily a drawback. His in-depth knowledge and overall technical play skill can carry the day independent of an unfriendly field or other mitigating factors (see Zvi’s GP: New Orleans victory with Turboland).

Examples: Zvi Mowshowitz, Mike Flores

[I find this rather amusing, since Flores will never, ever play a combo deck in his life. – Knut]

The Inventor

He won with that card? Ah, the oft heard refrain of someone freshly beaten by an Inventor –the relentless innovator who will try any card or strategy, no matter the popular or conventional wisdom. The Inventor is a fierce metagamer who will take a widescreen view of a format, find the common ground behind the successful decks, check out the overarching themes currently defining the format, and then concoct something rogue that attempts to deal with it all. Inventors are among the best natural deckbuilders in the world and view the game in a different light than most. He doesn’t go rogue for the sake of going rogue – he goes rogue because he honestly believes that there’s a big advantage inherent in playing something nobody has seen before. The opponent is never on sure footing against an Inventor and will tend to make more errors. In poker, a good player tends to make more money from the mistakes of others than he does through his own perfect play. This parallels the bread and butter philosophy of the Inventor.

Examples: Gabriel Nassif, Adrian Sullivan, HoF member and possible pick for 2006 comeback player of the year Alan Comer

The Thinker
The Thinker sees all of the angles. During the match, his mind turns over all of the possible and probable outcomes and attempts to arrive at an informed conclusion. He is technically perfect with his play – he taps his mana optimally, never overextends, never shows the opponent a card in his deck if it’s possible to win without it, and always takes time to ponder important decisions. He wants to see and draw more cards than the opponent; both enable him to make more informed decisions. The Thinker enjoys playing spells like Duress and Cabal Therapy for this same reason – information is power. Naturally, he will gravitate towards control-based strategies as those decks tend to give him the greatest number of options. Many Thinkers are also Mathematicians, as the two traits pair well, like Peaches and Herb.

Like Cagney and Lacey. Like Big Boi and Andre 3000. Like Peter North and Jenna Jameson. I could go on forever. Somebody stop this crazy thing!

Examples: Dave Humpherys, Mike Pustilnik

The Gambler
The Gambler is an expert at “reading” players and uses the information retrieved through unconscious tells or other body language to his advantage. He is not afraid to take a chance on a play that a Thinker or Mathematician would deem an unneeded risk – like running his last threat out there when it looks chancy to do so. Despite the opponent’s open mana, the Gambler knows the other guy doesn’t have the Counterspell he’s representing. He’s also not afraid to take a chance on the percentages in absence of any other information; if the other guy has the goods, then so be it. Dan Paskins wrote about certain players having “The Fear” – the Gambler doesn’t have any.

Examples: Gabe Walls, Neil Reeves

The Psychologist
The Psychologist is a chatterbox during a match – either making subtle or overt “suggestions” to the opponent throughout. His main goal is to either get the guy across the table to make suboptimal choices or outright play mistakes through careful banter. Everyone has heard of the showy “mind tricks” and trash talk that Psychologists will occasionally employ, but their main tactic is to make seemingly pithy or innocent comments that raise the slightest doubt regarding the proper play. They are masters of baiting (oh man) and test-spelling. I playtested a bit with “Hammer” Regnier during the early part of my illustrious Magic career, and after moving to Charlottesville, I had many a tilt with Mike Long (both on the card table and on the blacktop). Both of these guys were expert Psychologists, and until I learned to adapt, their tactics definitely affected the outcome of our matches.

Examples: Mike Long, Shawn Regnier

The Mastermind
Very few in Magic possess the Mastermind trait. Those that do are the best that the game has ever seen. In a way, the Mastermind is really a miasma of all of the above traits, except that no one characteristic dominates the others. He can consciously or unconsciously muster any of the above six with a chameleon-like ability as the situation dictates. The Mastermind has reached a plane beyond that of his peers, having a capacity to interpret the board and future plays in a way that borders on clairvoyance. He pick up a deck cold, bereft of any format knowledge, sideboarding strategies, – hell, sometimes even after not playing Magic at all for years, and make the Top 8 of a major event. These are the Jedi masters of the game, possessing an innate aptitude that others can only hope to achieve through years of play.

Examples: Jon Finkel, Mike Turian, Eugene Harvey

So… which traits do YOU have?