SCG Talent Search – A Limited Article: The Honeymoon’s Over

Tuesday, November 30th – Last round, I went from being universally praised to universally panned. The honeymoon was over. It was time to write about Magic cards. No more daydreams. No more letters.

The weekend after writing about how under-drafted blue is, StarCityGames.com very own Gerry Thompson and his sweet chin music went out and drafted a base-blue deck in a very stacked Top 8 at Grand Prix Nashville and took down the whole she-bang. Congrats on the win, Gerry, and thanks for, against all odds, inadvertently making me appear credible.

A few weeks ago, a lot of the judges told me that I was a good writer, which was nice to hear, especially from writers I respect so much. All I could think was, “Wow, Jon! You really do make write words good!” I made a mental note to stick this thought into a future submission. Self-referential jokes are important, if you’re me. Gotta work on the brand!

Then last round happened. My authoritative voice was brought into question, and I went from being universally praised to universally panned. They still liked my writing, but they didn’t enjoy my strategy content. The honeymoon was over. It was time to write about Magic cards. No more daydreams. No more letters.

* * *

A park. JON is walking on the path when a stray baseball lands in front of him. He picks it up. TOMMY, a boy of seven, runs over to him.

TOMMY: Hey, mister!

JON: Hey, kiddo. Is this your ball?

TOMMY: Yeah! Hey, you look familiar! Aren’t you in the StarCityGames dot com Talent Search?

JON: Why, yes I am.

TOMMY: Remind me which one you are again.

JON: Well, I write Limited articles, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback-


you’re Tom Reeve, arent’cha, mister?

JON: Uhh… nope, he’s British, so that’s not me. Uhh… I recently wrote about drafting blue!

TOMMY: Oh! I know! You’re Kaloyan Kirilov!

JON: Wow, I’m quite surprised you were able to pronounce that. But that’s not me. Kaloyan is Bulgarian. Let’s see here… A lot of people have told me my articles are funny! That’s a decent hint!

TOMMY: I got it now. You’re Barry Diwell. I love those puns, mister!

JON: (exasperated) Jesus Christ, kid, does it look like we’re in Australia? This is the United F***ing States. I’m Jon Corpora.

TOMMY: You’re Jon Corpora?

JON: Yes.

TOMMY spits at his feet.

TOMMY: I hate you! What were you talking about, getting positive feedback? Everyone hates you! And they should! You suck. You don’t even write about Magic! I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU!

TOMMY walks away.

JON: Hey, you forgot your ball!

TOMMY: (without looking back) Keep it, fatso.

* * *

They say you shouldn’t eat right before you go to sleep because it messes with your dreams, but I’ll be damned if that leftover pizza in the fridge doesn’t come on strong at 11:30 at night.

This week, I was reading a handful of Limited articles, because when writers aren’t writing, asking their editors who to start for fantasy football on Twitter, or eating peanut-butter pie for breakfast, they’re reading. True, most of the time they’re reading traffic signs or the ticker on ESPN, but a true writer always has time to sneak in a quick Patrick Chapin article before lunch (two Oreo milkshakes).

So I’m reading this Antoine Ruel article, where he asks a lot of pros about SOM Limited. Hey, I’ve played that set before! It has Vedalken Certarch in it!

Ruel asks a set of pros all the same questions about SOM Limited: what cards are over/underrated, pick orders for each color’s commons… the usual fare when trying to gauge a group’s perception of a Limited format. The question that he asked everyone that stuck out to me was pick 1, pack 1, at a Grand Prix, at a SOM draft, in a building, which do you take, Arc Trail or Koth of the Hammer?

Four out of seven pros took
Arc Trail.

Over Koth of the Hammer! A… goddammit.

/goes to StarCityGames.com

//starts reading
SCG Talent Search: Playing Control

///forgets he’s in the middle of writing something

////opens up exposé, sees he’s in the middle of writing something

/////remembers what he came here for, looks up Koth of the Hammer

A $35 card! And a really good one at that! I didn’t even know it wasn’t obvious; if I ever opened a Koth of the Hammer, I’d slam it home, even in a Grand Prix because, well, it’s freaking Koth of the Hammer! When he comes down on turn 4, you get a 4/4! That can attack!

Arc Trail is obviously amazing, especially within the confines of SOM Limited. I’m not saying it’s not. It’s certainly much better than a vast majority of rares in the set and even a fair amount of mythics. It’s just… well, I have a history of being distracted by shiny things.

Just taking the time to think about what you’re doing is important. This is what separates Us Adults from Justin Bieber Fans (Justin Bieber, he’s topical, right? Right.). Since the rise in popularity in the Drafting With… Now On Video! format, I’ve done a couple screen caps of myself drafting on MODO where I talk aloud about each pick and why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I’ve noticed that talking myself through the picks aloud has changed what I’d pick if I weren’t talking to myself like a crazy person. I’m pretty sure the change in my picks is a change for the better. I’d like to be able to submit these videos as Limited articles, but I can’t because once you stop writing and start talking, it’s no longer writing; it’s

And until StarCityGames.com holds an Acting Talent Search, I’m stuck.

Thinking about it, what are the upsides to Arc Trail over Koth of the Hammer? I made a short list:

—Easier to splash Arc Trail

—It’s a two-for-one

—Keeps you flexible

Time for the other side of the coin. Pros of Koth of the Hammer?

—Makes a big dork every turn

—Will maybe draw attackers away from my face for a little while

—If I can block, it will give me a Flame Fusillade emblem and most likely win me the game all by itself

—Can sell it afterwards, get Oprah rich

After seeing both those lists, I’m still liking the Koth of the Hammer plan. There’s gotta be something else to this Arc Trail argument. Why would someone go with Arc Trail? Better yet, why do

want to go with Koth of the Hammer? The more important question to address is probably the latter.

Koth of the Hammer is a card that can easily win games on its own and makes all your bombs a lot better. But what kind of deck would Koth of the Hammer go in? My guess is you’d have to play… ten Mountains. I don’t think nine Mountains are enough to make Koth of the Hammer better than Arc Trail. So ten Mountains… keeping in mind that red is probably the most hotly contested color. What color should we pair Koth with?

At this point, it’s important to note that if I take Koth of the Hammer, I’m probably gonna be putting my neighbor into red unless I can successfully cut the color from him, which I’d be forced to do in order to maximize Koth of the Hammer’s value. That sounds unattractive to me. Bleh. But where were we?

White’s got some good stuff, with a lot of removal. Unfortunately, the good white stuff is fairly mana-intensive, or artifact-intensive. Koth of the Hammer’s ramp ability would be wasted as well; there’s really nothing high on the curve to ramp into in white. In the immortal words of Kenny Powers: White… you’re f***ing out.

Red is… alllready being drafted, yes. But what red cards go with Koth of the Hammer? Removal’s obviously good, but you’re gonna need some blockers, too, which red doesn’t have a ton of. Scoria Elemental has one toughness. Flameborn Hellion has to attack each turn. You can only get a block out of him if you play him on your second main phase, which is annoying and stupid. The only red cards I can think of that complement Koth of the Hammer are all rare. This Koth of the Hammer plan is quickly looking horrible. We trudge on!

Green has a lot of big dudes to ramp into. However, they all cost
double freaking green

to cast. Also, Koth of the Hammer doesn’t make the fatties better

by just being able to play them a turn or two earlier. Besides, by the time you have two Forests
in play

on the battlefield, you should be able to just cast the fatties with the land you have in play without having to -2 Koth of the Hammer. Tangle Angler and Blight Mamba are both fair blockers, but they both have infect and are thus worthless, since the Koth of the Hammer deck will not be trying to rack up poison counters on its opponent. Sylvok Replica, probably the most hotly contested common in green, would be our only decent blocker. Cue that sinking feeling.

Blue gets a little better, with some under-drafted proliferator guys, like Thrummingbird and Steady Progress, the former of which completely blows if you don’t have Koth of the Hammer in play. Blue is okay, but once again, it follows the theme in Scars of Mirrodin that dictates that good, colored blockers must force you into a commitment. Plated Seastrider? Double blue. Darkslick Drake? Double blue! Sky-Eel School?!

/rips out beard hair violently

Magic is hard.

Black probably gives us the most attractive pairing to go with Koth of the Hammer; you can build a low-curve, aggressive deck with Dross Hopper, Moriok Reaver, Oxidda Daredevil, Vulshok Heartstoker, and maybe even Necrogen Scudder, and just have Koth of the Hammer as a finisher. If you don’t feel comfortable finishing with Koth of the Hammer’s ultimate, you could probably even squeeze an Exsanguinate into the maindeck, which actually doesn’t sound all that horrible if you’re feeding double your Mountains in play into it. Exsanguinate in this deck kinda reminds me of Rachael Leigh Cook in
She’s All That;

which would make me Freddie Prinze Junior, and Koth of the Hammer would be my sister, who, when she’s not trying to sleep with me, gives Exsanguinate a makeover and turns her really hot. Venser, the Sojourner would play the principal of our high school.

It will shock you to find out that I’m not getting paid to write this. I know! Outrageous! “Surely, they

have paid you the big bucks to piss off a bunch of people because you didn’t get voted off last round!” No, they did not. With that in mind, I regretfully inform you that I’ll be unable to do MODO drafts until I open a Koth of the Hammer in my first pack, snatch it up, make a real deck from there, and write about it. So let’s just pretend I did, shall we?

1 Dross Hopper
1 Fume Spitter
1 Iron Myr
1 Leaden Myr
1 Moriok Replica
2 Moriok Reaver
1 Necrogen Scudder
2 Oxidda Daredevil
1 Rust Tick
1 Skinrender
1 Vulshok Heartstoker
1 Vulshok Replica
1 Wall of Tanglecord

1 Contagion Clasp
1 Exsanguinate
1 Flesh Allergy
1 Galvanic Blast
1 Grasp of Darkness
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Oxidda Scrapmelter
1 Shatter
1 Tumble Magnet

10 Mountain
6 Swamp

That looks like a deck someone could reasonably draft to me. Still, that deck looks pretty bad if we don’t draw Koth of the Hammer. The argument
that we could just build a better deck and stick Koth of the Hammer in doesn’t work, because then when you draw Koth of the Hammer, now

is the bad card. Simply put, the hoops you have to jump through in order to make Koth of the Hammer a better card than Arc Trail will make the rest of the deck suffer. If you choose not to jump through those hoops, you’d just be better off with the Arc Trail.

How many Mountains do you need in play for Koth of the Hammer to even be good? I submit that it would take four Mountains by turn 5. Let’s say you’re on the draw, just to be generous, and let’s say that you already have Koth of the Hammer in hand, also to be generous. By turn 5 (twelve cards drawn total), you’d need four Mountains. Playing ten Mountains will give you a good shot at pulling that off (4/12 > 10/40). However, as anyone that’s ever been mana-screwed or donkey-screwed or any kind of screwed will tell you, drawing your mana that perfectly every time is far from a given.

I bet you can tell where this is headed.

What does a deck that features Arc Trail look like? Well, it can look like anything. That’s the beauty of Arc Trail and why it’s probably better than Koth of the Hammer as a first pick.

I haven’t discussed Arc Trail much yet, and that’s largely because doing so would just be an exercise in stating the obvious. Arc Trail is a format-defining card. I mentioned how to play around it the week before last because if you don’t, you most likely won’t come back. That said, Arc Trail isn’t an easy card to play around by any means, and if you’re playing against someone playing around Arc Trail, and you’re
not holding one, the tempo you gain on your opponent is substantial. Arc Trail will kill their mana ramp, put them two turns away from metalcraft,

be a two-for-one. Its value cannot be understated.

Thinking about it, I would now, painful as it is to pass $35, pass Koth of the Hammer and nab Arc Trail. It’s easy for someone to say, “Well, he saw that some pros did it, so he just changed his mind to go with the majority,” and it’s easy to say that because that’s exactly what I did.

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Whoever said that has clearly never driven in the beltway in Washington, DC. I’d rather fellate a cactus than drive in DC ever again. But in this process, the journey to whether Arc Trail or Koth of the Hammer is the right choice is the real meat. I literally sat and stared at that Ruel article, tried to determine whether or not Koth of the Hammer was the right pick, and said to myself, “holy sh**, there’s a whole article in just that question.” And then I sat down at my laptop, Philly cheesesteak in hand (I’d say it was about ten in the afternoon), and with Ninja Warrior quietly playing in the background, I proved myself right.

I’m not too stupid to realize that my articles are largely based on challenging people’s preconceived notions on what constitutes a Magic article. I’m also not too stupid to realize that a lot of folks resent/distrust change and see Magic as Serious Business, and that Magic Is No Place For Jokes. I

stupid enough to not start Glint Hawk, Tumble Magnet, and Contagion Clasp in a Sealed Deck, and I was stupid enough to put it in print. Point is, I really am taking Magic more seriously than I have in years, and it’s all thanks to this Talent Search. I realize that getting better at Magic means you have to analyze

decision you make, even the ones that seem obvious. I’m getting better at the game every day, and that’s something I’m proud of, because if you’re not moving forward in Magic, then where are you going?

Jon Corpora
Pronounced Ca-pora