SCG Talent Search – Constructed Knockout Round 2

Monday, November 29th – A heartbreaking decision from the judges today – who has to go home? Certainly not who I was expecting!

Valeriy Shunkov


I loved your first week’s article, though week two was a little lackluster. This week, I thought you did an excellent job of stepping your game up. You capitalized on a couple of your biggest strengths, your wit, and your added great takeaway technology to every article. Week 1, you added Memoricide to Valakut. Week 2, Royal Assassin in U/B. This week, you turn it up a notch with advice on how readers can find tech themselves, as well as a few easy plusses, like Blazing Torch. You listened to the advice the judges gave you, you improved your draft quite a bit during the week during our discussions, and I very much got the impression that you’re a quick learner. I also love that you take real positions, instead of being afraid and hedging.

If I were going to complain, it would be that there’s a fine line between the trademark Russian voice and just plain hard-to-read. You’re usually on the good side, but I know that sometimes I don’t always feel the flow of the article, such as the line about Vodka and the periodic table. I get it, but it’s slightly awkward. Keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe try stretching your range out a little bit, as I feel like sometimes you don’t venture very far from your comfort zone, when discussing Magic. Still, I’m getting the vibe that you could realistically produce content regularly; you’re improving quickly as a writer and finding an audience. Keep it up!


Really enjoyed this, yet again. I’m really getting used to your writing style and have begun looking forward to your articles. While I think Stone Idol Trap is a nice chunky piece of technology for the Red Deck against Kor Firewalker, I thought you did a great job explaining other tech-y options. I hadn’t thought about Perilous Myr, but it makes sense, and Blazing Torch was interesting. I also like how you wove black into the deck, but I’m not 100% it’s the right choice. But hey, that’s for playtesting to bear fruit. Kuldotha Red is a red deck, but there are certainly enough awesome duals to think about other colors. I’m curious why you immediately discounted Lavaclaw Reaches—I’ve heard positive things about it, and it

Day of Judgment proof.

Regardless, arguing about decks isn’t talking about writing. I thought the writing was top-notch; you took time with your pace, section division, and conclusion. Valeriy rocks!


Overall, a nice little hunt. From a marketing perspective, you definitely learned – your last week’s article had a bad title, so comparatively few people read it (even though it was good), and so you made this week’s title something everyone was interested in. Who doesn’t want to know about tech?

Well done!

Your writing is clean and clear, and while I’m not absolutely sold on the tech, your strength is one of the best strengths a Magic writer can have – explaining the thought process behind it, so even if I’m not sold I can see all the steps and try to figure out where my qualms might be. I thought the opening segment with the four types of tech was a little elementary, but then you deepened it, so ‘grats on avoiding that pitfall. In short, this is a fine article.


I liked this article overall because it made me think and even come to some conclusions that I might not have come to on my own.

Example: Conley Woods is almost exclusively a one-tournament deck designer. Example: How do I find/have I found tech in the past? I don’t necessarily agree with every conclusion you make, but that doesn’t really matter. The writing was good; you continue to have a unique cultural perspective, and you said thought-provoking things. Keep up the good work.

Carsten Kotter


Your first week’s submission was certainly not my favorite of that bunch, and week two was a big challenge, as you’re an Eternal writer that was asked to write about a Standard format he was not familiar with. As I said last week, you did an excellent job, all things considered, and I thoroughly enjoyed your expedition into Standard, even if it was light on content. I really respect your dedication to a theme that many would consider unfair, but that you took in stride and without complaint. It’s this kind of maturity and discipline that had me wanting to see you do big things this week. Last week, I left you with the advice to make sure you came out full steam when you returned to Eternal, as you had a lot of people to win over.

You succeeded with flying colors! This article was not only your best, but probably the best of this week for the Constructed portion. You gambled with a format that isn’t tried and true, but you pulled it off. You made excellent improvements from the first draft, and it’s clear that you work well with others. Your examples were thorough and interesting. You did an excellent job of capturing the interest of forum dwellers, and I thought you did a great job of fire-starting, getting people talking. You appear to have more than just the Eternal audience on your side, but winning them over was key.

I do think it was a mistake to not sign off at the end of your article. Remind people who you are! You did do an excellent job closing it out, and I gotta say – I’m impressed. I was unsure if you were up to the challenge of trying to win this contest as an Eternal writer, but this type of quality makes you a very real contender. Keep doing what you’re doing and engaging the readers like that, and your following with continue to grow.


Ooh! Pretty pictures. I’m such a sucker for anything but text. Regardless, this week you switched it up in a good way. We have the ole Play Situations Article, and as such it provides lots of debate and insight into the author.

I don’t play enough Legacy, I’m sure, but I didn’t think activating Mishra’s Factory and blocking the Kird Ape was really the worst option, let alone taking two damage when you can save yourself two

Counterspell their follow-up or removal…

See? Awesome article. I just catch myself talking about stuff like this without question. You struck a nerve and while I agree with all of the plays, I think the question is enough to keep people wondering and is a great way to get the community thinking and talking. That said, I think the way forward for articles like these is Lines of Play – you take a line of play, discuss why it does/doesn’t work, and then at the end reveal the correct LOP and why.

Regardless, out of the box thinking for a week that I think needed it.


Really, really nice. Control is all about the little decisions, and by focusing on relevant plays and asking the audience what to do, you steal a page from Stephen Menendian but (with no slight to Stephen) do it in a much more readable and fascinating manner.

I said with Valeriy that any Magic writer’s best strength is the ability to elucidate

you’re making a decision, and this is a very crunchy article with a lot of explanation as to why you think a given play is the right move. I don’t play Legacy, but this is the kind of article that helps all players, and as such I think it’s by far the strongest contender this week.


I’m crunched for time this week, so I’ll make it quick. I have much love for play scenarios, and these are particularly well done. In fact, this article is a rather impressive piece of teaching, and I say this as someone who has done a fair share.

Jon Agley


I wonder how much it hurt your votes and hits that you formatted your article with two titles, leaving no reference to the talent search in the title. I was a fan of both your week 1 and week 2 articles. In addition, I personally happen to particularly enjoy your writing, as regardless of this contest, I would love to read whatever you do in the future. Again, I find an article from you that I personally enjoy, but does not seem to be reaching much of an audience. Your third article’s topic was very forgettable, unfortunately, and while it was a massive improvement over the early drafts (awesome to see you taking advantage of the resources available to you for polishing your craft), I was a little disappointed. I know you’re capable of better. There are some problems coming to light. First of all, you’re completely failing to find your audience, which is going to be fatal very quickly.

If you make it out of this week, I think you have to take some pretty big chances next time, find a topic that will interest people, spark conversation, cultivate your personality. You’re naturally funny, so I wouldn’t worry about that; it will come out. You aren’t going to win on the back of your cutting edge strategic content, but neither would Cunningham, Rizzo, Tait, or Wakefield, and they’re four of the greatest of all time. Use that. Study those guys, particularly Rizzo and Tait, as they are the two that I think you could most learn from as examples. I’m really unsure whether you’ll make it out of this week, as you’re in the bottom two with the early favorite, but if you do, you better go all out next week, as both Kotter and Shunkov are bringing their A-game now.


Fantastic work! Brilliant in its use of media, funny in its use of phrasing, and strategic in its instruction. I thought it was a well-thought out piece that you’d obviously put a lot of time into. I loved the humor and the point was not only well made, it was made in an entertaining way (I get this all the time—it just means you put a joke in while making said point).

Regardless, I hate that you’re not finding the audience or votes you need in this contest. I think you’re a writer who’s obviously improving, and it shows. I mean, you gave us a sweet article

sweet tech and the end of it? The fish analogy was perfect and went oh-so-well with your analysis.

Man, why can’t they all be this good? The best of the week for Constructed, in my opinion.


Your writing here is wonderful, but what Chapin says applies: why aren’t you finding more of an audience? And I think the answer is that you have to pay attention to your titles and premises. Vague titles like “Learning, Metagaming, and Winning” don’t tell me anything about what’s in the article – that’s pretty much 60% of the articles right there.

The best advice I can give to anyone in this contest is to think of your article from the perspective of a guy who has fifteen minutes to read one article on SCG and is only looking to read one today. Why should he read yours? What are you going to offer him that’s either going to a) immediately up his game, or b) entertain him enough that he’ll take a risk on you?

Remember, writing is about the reader. Your goal is to connect with them. If your title’s weak, then people don’t know what to expect, and why should they show up?

…oh, yeah, your actual article. I love your writing style – it’s the best in the Constructed segment – but I think the vote suffers a little because you don’t have Teh Hardcore Tech. That’s fine, but it means your next week’s article has to be amazing to win out – so focus on something that’s going to get people’s attention. I think if you can grab them enough to lure them in you’ll do well, but you suffer there.


There are a lot of mini-arguments packed into this article, and I like the overall package, and I think it does a pretty good job of preparing people to succeed in Standard. I also like your writing. So you’re succeeding at the hardest parts. Unfortunately, you’re in the bottom two because voters haven’t warmed to you yet, and I think Ferrett hit the nail on the head here in that you need to add some reader perspective to your title and introduction. In order to find and keep readers, you need a catchy title and a good intro. This is a dirty little secret that I didn’t want to mention to anyone in the contest, because we wanted to see who already understood this and/or who grokked it naturally.

Don’t feel bad though – a couple of the big websites out there don’t seem to understand this concept very well either (and hell, sometimes we gloss over it ourselves). If you’re still here for the next round, pick a better title, and punch up the intro so it hooks readers enough to stick with the rest of the article.

Michael Hetrick


Le sigh.

Where to start? First, the good: You’re certainly the strongest player in this event, and I suspect you’ll be crossing over to Pro Tour success in the not too distant future. You’re not content to rest on the success of your Magic Online identity, _ShipItHolla, as you seem to maintain that you want to be judged on the back of your writing. Well, be careful what you wish for. I didn’t think there was any way you could be anything other than a big favorite, but this past week has almost seemed a deliberate plot to sabotage yourself. I have trouble imagining a faster, farther fall in a week, in this contest.

Last week you completely ignored the topic, choosing to write about something else entirely. When I pointed out that you hadn’t covered the topic at all during feedback and pointed out ways to incorporate it, you completely ignored it. That was disappointing, but at least that article was still solid. This week, though, was embarrassing. To start with, you were the only writer that didn’t submit a rough draft; you didn’t respond to any messages about writing, improvements, suggestions, or anything. I’m sure not a one of the judges can fathom why you wouldn’t take advantage of the resources available to you, especially after the mysterious declining of last week’s topic.

The article itself was boring, light on any content, a boring subject that has been covered much better, many times. The most compelling aspect of the article was the bit on Nassif, but awkwardly, your accounting of him and his sideboard was inaccurate and undermines your credibility to the reader, as it makes you appear very out of the loop, or perhaps just new to the scene. If you had submitted a rough draft, I absolutely would have warned you about this and even been able to provide some unusual inside info, as I was sitting with Nassif when he built the sideboard (and suggested the Enlightened Tutor that helped him rationalize actually going along with Herberholz’s taunts). The article was extremely poor, garnered almost no interest from the community, which combined with the total lack of communication and professionalism the past two weeks has me unfortunately having to cast my vote to eliminate you. I suspect there’s a reasonable chance I’ll be outvoted, and if you do stay, please, please work with me on sharpening your craft.

It took me agonizing all day to finally pull the trigger and vote against you, as you might have the most potential both as a player (you have the makings of a star) and a writer/theorist (your first article was brilliant), plus you’re probably less of a long shot to win the contest than Agley (who lacks an audience). All of that does nothing to change the fact that all of the other competitors are working their butts off trying to win this contest that you seem to hardly care about.

If you make it past this round, you have to decide if it’s important to you, because if it is, you have a lot of ground to catch up on. If you’re eliminated today, perhaps this will be the kick in the pants you need to do some real soul searching and learn some valuable life lessons. You have a very bright future, but I just cannot in conscience vote to keep you after two straight weeks of total unprofessionalism, the weakest article of the week that was clearly phoned in, and a total misuse of your talents.

Where is the cutting edge technology? You aren’t the most fun writer, but your strength is supposed to be your technology. I got mad love for you, bro, so it is out of love for you that I give you what you wished for. You wanted to be judged based on your merits in the contest? Then I have to vote against you, this week.


A meh entry. Nothing groundbreaking and nothing that hasn’t been covered many (many) times before. The trick is to make it applicable and interesting,
and I think taking us back to school for the basics is not the way to go here. I actually think another take on Michael Jacob
amazing sideboarding article

would be awesome.

This is a stellar article that has stuck with me, because rather than just say that 4-4-4-3 is bad or all one-ofs have some purpose, I feel the actual
construction of a sideboard is more informative to the reader

the writer. You want to show them what a good sideboard looks like? Then

one! Show us a current deck, its current sideboard, and how you’d rebuild it in the current metagame. Doing this for Legacy is probably even more interesting and would be a unique take from MJ’s perspective.

I also disagree with saying written sideboard plans are bad. You note if your opponent does something unexpected they can be bad… well, why don’t you just update your notes for this new card/strategy? It doesn’t make any sense to me to dismiss one of the biggest changes in the competitive game in some time (i.e. the ability to use outside notes) when they can be incredibly useful,

when an opponent in a future round uses this ‘new’ strategy!

So, yeah. Not bad, not great, just meh. I don’t want to use the phrase “phoned in,” but I would like to use the phrase “could’ve used some serious work.”

The Bottom Two this week were Michael Hetrick & Jon Agley. I honestly think Jon just needed a few more tweets and Facebook likes. He brought the humor and the tech, and I can’t ask for much more than that.

Michael on the other hand gave us an article written so many times it could’ve written itself. You can’t go over the classics without giving it a new spin.

For this round I vote to remove Michael Hetrick from the competition.


I want to like this one, I really do, based on your history and talent.

You’re a strong player… But “strong player” isn’t the same as “strong writer,” or Finkel would be one of the most popular writers of all time. The core problem? This article didn’t teach me anything I didn’t know already… and I don’t play Constructed. When you have someone who’s completely out of the loop, being taught by someone with vastly superior skills, and the student is nodding impatiently with a “Yeah, I knew that!” then Houston, we have a problem.

I looked really carefully at the hits here to make sure. Maybe I was wrong, and you connected with people – but no. You had the lowest number of readers of any strategy article this week and the lowest number of votes. And from a strategic perspective, I’m like, “Do I want to axe a writer who might be making it on the Pro Tour someday?” And I assure you I don’t.

The thing about Magic writing, though, is that it’s not about the pro’s skill – Michael Flores and Patrick Chapin are far from the strongest players in the world (sorry, Patrick), but they manage to make it big in the writing world because they convey ideas and ferret out new concepts to write about. I think you definitely have the skill to hand off really good tech, but you didn’t here. And when there are three other guys who are evolving quickly from week to week

delivering us the readership we want, I can’t justify keeping you in this.

It hurts. It’s like chopping off an arm. But Michael, if I have to remove someone, then it has to be you.


Well this came as a surprise. Choosing this topic was a clear mistake. For starters, it’s been done a number of times recently in the community. It’s also been done considerably better than you did it, which is obviously a problem. This is normally the spot where I would suggest your mentor should have steered you clear of this, but you have been choosing not to avail yourself of Chapin’s thoughts, which means the error is all your own. The audience felt the same as the judges here, because after being at or near the top previously, you’re dragging the bottom this week.

I get the sense that you could very well be the next Brad Nelson, and we’ll all feel very stupid when you win Worlds next year. You have huge potential as a writer, deckbuilder, and a player. That said, everyone else’s articles were just better this week. By not getting advice from Patrick before submitting this for publication, you let yourself down, because he would’ve steered you in a better direction, and I get the sense you’ll be voted out of the competition for your mistake.


Ted’s Vote: Hetrick. It sucks, and he’ll probably end up an awesome writer, but he won’t be winning this event.