SCG Talent Search – Constructed Knockout Round 3

Monday, December 13th – Who will make the final Top 8 of the SCG Talent Search? Will it be Jon Agley, who tackled theory, Valeriy Shunkov, Valakut/tech expert, or Carsten Kotter, the Eternal writer? One will have to go home… who’s it gonna be?

Jon Agley


— This was a surprising direction to take and probably the one with the biggest chance of falling flat on your face. Theory is hard. Thankfully, you made it work and that judgment was backed up by hits and by reader votes. I personally liked the literature review in your article, introducing newer readers to tons of material that they likely haven’t been introduced to. That made your article much better than it would’ve been otherwise. You then applied that to what you wanted to discuss and even used pictures to explain the concepts. Take heart when I tell you everyone’s first theory work will likely never be perfect and any issues that arose with this were far less than I’d expect from theory pieces done by far more established writers at the time.

This is all despite the fact that your title kind of sucked (again). Unless you are a giant of Magic writing, telling people you are writing a theory article before they even click on it is almost certainly a bad idea. It doesn’t matter though — welcome to the Top 8.


– Wow! The judges advised you to take some chances this weekend and try to branch out and find an audience. This, you certainly did in spades! Your first three articles, while all different themes, resonated with the same basic style. This week was a major departure, but rather than alienating anyone, I think you actually did an excellent job demonstrating some range. These types of articles aren’t for everyone, and I would hope you only do them once in a while, but it is awesome to see you capable of hitting these notes, so to speak.

As for finding an audience, your article was the best hit in Constructed, earning you crucial immunity for the week, as you haven’t been the strongest week to week, and you would certainly have not been safe in everyone’s eyes without it. Your success this week isn’t an accident. You engaged the audience, you drove conversation in the forums, you wrote about interesting material, and you brought some pretty serious business this week. I have been a fan of your work since the beginning, as you know, so it is great to see you taking the feedback seriously and finding ways to connect with readers.

I will say that I’m not completely sold on how useful this article is, as it hints at a pretty epic model, without actually giving us practical instructions on how to assemble the model. That said, the list of writers that have inspired me with talk of some sort of master framework for discussing the game number on my fingers, and I have to say, you might actually have made the list. I get the impression that the ideas that I’m having as a result of having read this are not necessarily in-line with the article itself, but that hardly matters. Being inspired at all has me thankful to have read this, even if this is barely a reflection of a shadow.

I’m particularly interested to see what you follow this up with, as you can’t use the Grand Unifying Theory every week. You have increased visibility now, but what will you do with it and how will you continue to reach out to people? You are still an underdog, as you are coming from behind in this competition, but you do have good momentum now. Keep it up!

Ferrett –

Some people love chewing on big fat theory articles like this. Unfortunately, the abstracted bits like this put me to sleep.

The problem with this is that this whole article could be boiled down to:

A) Existing Magic nomenclature is nebulous. Granted. B) Particularly the idea of card advantage. Granted. C) We should change everything to focus on utility. Stop.

I don’t read theory articles to ruminate on theory – I read them to glean some new mental construct that will make me a better player. And in the end, what you’ve done with all of these churning words is to stir up a lot of dust and then not actually giving me anything of value at the end.

Okay, great, you’ve proven that card advantage isn’t a constant thing to strive for. I knew that. But if it’s all going to be about this mystical “utility,” then shouldn’t you actually try to define “utility” in a compact way that will help me understand it better?

I already knew “You should think about what your opponent is trying to do.” Without anything new at the table, this leaves me with a lot of consideration and nothing useful to be taken away. That said, you got a lot of votes, so I may be out in the cold on this one.

Jacob Van Lunen

I was almost certain that I wouldn’t like Jon Agley‘s column after I read the title. I was pleasantly surprised by Jon’s approach to writing about theory. Jon explained classic concepts of Magic strategy in a way that was accessible to most readers. Jon’s article was filled with fun references that kept it interesting without detracting from the worthwhile subject matter. These aren’t easy columns to write often; there’s only so much theory to go around. I’d like to see more from Jon, though. 

Valeriy Shunkov


— I thought this article was really good and mentioned that on Twitter. You have an eye for funky tech, you have a style that is fun to read and provides a unique cultural twist, and you generally have a good understanding of what you are talking about. You have also produced solid material week after week, and at this point I think you have a solid little pack of readers following you. This is exactly what a site wants from its Featured Writers.


I gotta admit I was skeptical at the beginning of this contest, as to whether you would be able to deliver week in and week out. Well, this is four weeks in and you have been consistently producing quality material. I look forward to each of your articles and already have the sense that a weekly column is easily in your range. I appreciate your sense of humor, as well as the tech angle that you are building for yourself.

We have encountered a few obstacles with language, but fortunately you have always done an excellent job of communicating with me and improving clarity by the time the final copy is posted. What the implications of this are is somewhat unclear, as it does mean potentially more work editing your articles than the other candidates, but given your professionalism and work ethic, I suspect this isn’t much of a problem.

I think you are probably the favorite, at this point, but there are still some areas to work on. First of all, you are at your best when you let your personality shine through, but often it seems you pull back. Take bigger chances! Additionally, you kind of punted a few intangibles this week. Your original article title used some Russian wordplay that doesn’t work in English (in Russian, the word for “obstinate” is the word for “shrew,’ which led into some particularly clever “Taming of the Shrew/Obstinate” lines that related to not only the Shakespearean play but your change in perspective on Obstinate Baloth). I think it was a wasted opportunity to cut this material from the article, because it may not have worked as the title, but I believe that there had to be a way to use it in the body, even if it was simply explaining the title you could not use.

The other big mistake this week was letting your forums wither and die. Engage the audience! Get conversation started! Get people talking! Jon Agley article surely had way more people that didn’t like it than yours or Kotter’s combined, but it had a buzz; it had people talking. A lot of talk also meant a lot of votes. You have a loyal following, but you have to come especially strong as we are now merging the categories meaning you are going to be up against people you were not previously competing with. The majority of the potential voters are not already on board with you, yet. You have work to do!

Ferrett –

A cogent article. You’re very thorough about trying to explore your thoughts on things, and I like that. I feel by the time I’m done with one of your articles, I’ve really got a good sense of how you view the format, which is something I personally like.

Don’t have much to say about it otherwise. I’d have liked a little more teching out here, but I don’t know how much room there really is to find here.

Jacob Van Lunen

Valeriy Shunkov was the most impressive writer here. Valeriy bravely discussed the most played archetype in Standard. Valeriy challenged homogenous builds and offered helpful examples for the army of players that have armed themselves with the archetype. Valeriy seems like one of those writers that helps you sharpen your blade. (You may be familiar with “archetype x,” but this author can make you dangerous.) If Valeriy wrote a regular column – I would read it every week. 

Carsten Kotter


— I have liked your work thus far, and I think you would likely have a long career as a writer for Eternal formats. However, that particular niche limits your mass appeal a bit. Readers

extrapolate the lessons you provided this week into a wider set of lessons about Standard or Limited, but that takes effort on their part. Meanwhile you have Jon and Valeriy writing good, more mainstream content that you have to compete against, meaning you have to write real knockouts every single time in order to keep making it through. You didn’t quite pull that off this week, which is unfortunate, since I think you can create quality work.

Vote: Agley and Shunkov make it through to the Top 8.

Patrick —

Entering the competition as a Legacy player is an interesting twist, as you have a smaller “easy” audience to start with, but that audience is often very loyal. Additionally, Legacy has been surging to new heights over the past couple of years, and there is a massive demand for good Legacy writing. You are a good Legacy writer. Period. I admired your expedition into Standard, but last week really pushed the envelope in a good way. It was your third article as well as the discussion we have had in private that already has me sure you will make it as a regular Legacy writer.

Now, the bad news. You sent me a message this week letting me know of illness that was preventing you from getting started on your article. You certainly handled it correctly, but unfortunately, by the time you submitted something to me, we had relatively little time, and the first article was, well, really bad. There were some interesting areas to explore, but it needed a total overall to even be printable. We discussed a number of elements to it, which prompted an eleventh-hour re-write. The new article was still not particularly strong, but you did make some important improvements to it last minute. Still, this was certainly far from your usual quality of work, no doubt impaired by illness and just not having time to work out a good article. If you were a regular columnist, this would have been easily avoided by calling in sick for a week. Unfortunately, in this contest, that is not an option.

Your best is really good, but if you want an area to work on, it is your consistency. Perhaps writing every other week would be a better fit for you. Having the weakest article of the week by far is a pretty big strike, especially in a category where all three writers are quite strong. While your earlier body may have saved you this week if Agley did not win immunity, he did what he needed to do and was the top hit and the top vote getter. Yours was the lowest by far. It is unfortunate, as I like working with you, and there is no question of your ability to produce good Legacy articles, but it is either you or Valeriy, this week. You were pretty neck and neck last week, though he has been more consistent. This week, he is definitely ahead, so it is with sadness that I have to vote against you. If you get voted off this week, I wish you the best in your future en devours, as I will certainly be looking to read your work.

Ferrett –

I felt this was a weak and not particularly focused article – the whole “Should you play Preordain in Standard?” seems like an intriguing line of inquiry, but then it dissolves into a lot of theory that doesn’t really lead me anywhere. I wanted to see you take modern Standard decks and see what happens when you add Preordain to them, and what I got was a lot of Legacy discussion that made this feel like neither fish nor fowl.

The puzzle bonus is always nice, though.

Gah. Honestly, I feel like an old crank here and say that I would have voted Agley out this week, but the readers have shouted me down. So I’m down to squeezing out Valeriy or Carsten, which is a tough choice: we need more Legacy writers, but Valeriy really handles recent topics consistently.

In this case, I’m going to vote Carsten off, by a close shave. It could go either way quality-wise, but my decision’s made on hits, and Valeriy delivers them more consistently.

Jacob Van Lunen

Carsten Kotter made a lot of good points in his column, but most of them have little application in actual gameplay or deck construction. Carsten had an angry tone and made some unwarranted attacks on some very well-respected deck designers. In fact, I think Caleb Durward’s original build was close to perfect for the Grand Prix and Caleb’s reasoning for not including Brainstorm is quite sound for a skilled player. I also disagree with the guidelines offered for ordering ponders/preordains, they seemed very legacy-centric and they weren’t presented that way. 

While I have a lot of trouble doing it, I feel like I have to vote Carsten off this week.