Standing On The Shoulders Of They Might Be Giants

I don’t even know whom I’m writing this for…so we’ll start here for the points… "Net decks are like the gun replacing the sword in ancient Japan. The Samurai thought the gun was dishonorable, dangerous, and impersonal – and they were right. Unfortunately, guns were also darned effective, and anyone who tried fighting a .44…

I don’t even know whom I’m writing this for…so we’ll start here for the points…

"Net decks are like the gun replacing the sword in ancient Japan. The Samurai thought the gun was dishonorable, dangerous, and impersonal – and they were right. Unfortunately, guns were also darned effective, and anyone who tried fighting a .44 Smith & Wesson with their katana wound up dead, fast."
[author name="The Ferrett"]The Ferrett[/author]

So here is the Ferrett, King of all disdain for "The Tournament Duel," clueing in the dueling masses on the future of Magic for Dollars. Alvin Toffler would be proud…

"Oh you’re playing that net deck?" *frown*

We know that we see this all the time. It’s a reality, and there’s an undercurrent of disgust that perpetuated by some players towards playing a net deck. Yet most likely the person that coming forth with this opinion of you and what you are doing by playing that deck is a less-than-stellar player whom the greater Magic community probably has never heard of. Why? Well, to attempt to shatter some myths I think I see a trend in which being a better player and being a better deck builder are on diverging paths.

Jon Finkel, having won both the US Nationals and the World title, did so playing with decks for which he didn’t come up with the basic archetype – so he was in essence playing "net" decks tweaked to the metagame! Maher too played the Tinker deck at Worlds, and came in second. Finkel at the US Nats played the Mike "Bad Player" Flores deck worked over with his own metagame ideas – but this was, at that time, far from a "rogue" deck or unique concoction. I think there is a reason for this, and I think this example is a very good one for illustrating my point. Let’s take a look at Mike Flores first and his legendary approach to the game:

For those who don’t know, Mike Flores is a bit of a Magic legend on two counts (at least by the stories that have come to me). First he is a great deck builder who recently built his Control Black deck and used it to rack up a lot of wins in the type two Regionals. Second, he’s earned the comical nickname of "Bad Player" Mike Flores! For my part, I don’t think these two things are mutually independent phenomena. Flores isn’t really a bad player, but his history is strewn with playing gaffes at critical times in tournaments. I’m going to put forth my theory on why that is: It is because I believe that Flores is a deckbuilder first and a player second. To illustrate what I think happens with Mike and many other players, when play begins their focus often shifts from winning the game at hand to the future and future deck building and tweaking. Especially if a player is playing a rogue deck, I think that much of their play is devoted to future tuning of their creation, and thus wanders from the game going on in front of them.

Deckbuilding, and I’m talking about searching for the playable rogue deck, takes time – and a lot of that time is not spent playing the deck, but instead searching for cards that might make the deck better. As anyone who’s put together an even decent rogue deck knows this can be terribly time consuming. While doing this, you aren’t actually playing Magic either, and thus aren’t honing your playing skills…at least not the skills that I think are needed to win the big tournaments. Winning a prestigious tournament takes hours of focus to do and it even gets to the Pros, where when the dollar signs are on the line fatigue causes slip-ups for even the most hardened players. I think that for most people. IF you want to compete at that high level then you have to practice for that type of play environment. It means that you have to practice playing long hours, and with a deck of choice that is, for the most part, solid and proven. Taking a rogue deck into this type of environment is a distraction, and coupled with the fact that you’ve probably lost playing practice time in building it, I think as a player you are at a disadvantage.

This isn’t to say that it can’t be done, but I think it’s getting more and more rare to see the great deckbuilder and player all rolled up into one. The idea still exists, though, that the top players should also be great builders, and sometimes it sometimes works out that way.

So where do the decks come from?

Perhaps we need look no further than the origin of Prosperous Bloom. I’ll be doing this from memory and the details will be sketchy but, I think, enough. This powerhouse deck was originally a concept that was being attempted by a less-than-known player, a pre-teen I think, from somewhere in California. It was only as a better player was passing that this youngster’s idea took hold, and soon the deck was tweaked into a world powerhouse. We can follow this up with a very similar and more recent example with the deck archetype of Angry Hermit.

From Aaron Forsythe


"Angry Hermit was devised for the PA States last November. My bother, Neil, who never plays constructed Magic because he hates it, wanted to come hang out for the weekend but didn’t want to play any ‘normal’ deck. (I was set on playing Wildfire.) He asked me, ‘What about Green/Red landkill with Avalanche Riders and Plow Under?’ I said I didn’t think it would be very good, but he begged me to build it. Now Neil is no Magic theorist – he only plays when one of us visits the other – but he does think outside the lines. He was the first person to stumble upon the Opposition/Winter Orb combo in our group, completely by accident, and out of that revelation sprang the Extended deck that Kurt Burgner took to 23rd place in PT Chicago. So some of his wacky ideas are worth trying out."


Let’s also look at the guys (and girls) who spend a lot of time just writing about Magic. It might help them to actually put their thoughts out to be read, but it too is something that takes a LOT of time. Guys like Sean McKeown, who I KNOW put HOURS every week into putting forth great writing on the game. I’ve not seen anything written by Jon Finkel, and there too might be a part of the reason that Finkel is the best. I imagine that he’s practicing while Sean is writing. (Although Jon, if you ever decide to write, COME HERE! – The Ferrett) From what I see, the only very active writer that’s placed well at a major tourney is Zvi Mowshowitz, who might just be Magic’s best "all-rounder" as a writer, player and deckbuilder. He garnered a 10th at Worlds, writes constantly, makes up good decks… the whole ball. As one guy just pointed out, Finkel just comes out of hiding to whip everyone’s butt… ‘Cause he’s a pure player. I think you might be better off just playing and metagaming than sitting around trying to build some unique killer deck. I mean, I think that’s what he does… and it doesn’t look all that hard that way. Not to say that I could be Finkel – it’s just that that kind of focus would pay off for a lot of people… but would it be fun? Only, I guess, if you kept your perspective…

Tiger Woods.

Another example could be made of the comparisons of golf’s Tiger Woods and Jon Finkel. I think it’s a good parallel to draw, and I’m going to take it to the limit. Let’s equate golf clubs to decks. Tiger doesn’t make his clubs, and Finkel doesn’t come up with the archetypes for his decks. I’m sure Woods KNOWS about clubs and how they are made. He’s tight with the manufacturers, of course, but let me ask: IF Woods was making his own clubs, would he be as good? I think not. I do think that the guys who actually do make the clubs are probably pretty good golfers. They love the game, I’m sure, and they have fun with it. They just don’t trounce all the best players all over the world, because they are trying to make better clubs as much as be better golfers. So I think it goes with Magic these days. This guy builds a deck, this guy tweaks it, and this other guy wins with it.

Friday Night Magic.

My good friend Greg takes my deck ideas around the New York area and gets them shown for what they are. He also was a fan of FNM, but something he told me I found a little disturbing: He told me that there wasn’t any FNM close to him anymore, because the casuals and the kids stopped coming because they couldn’t win. The kids didn’t come any more ’cause a few old salts were whipping them all round, and two or three fellows were collecting the winnings. Well, what good does that do? I think they need a rating-based handicap for that kind of stuff so that the better players don’t monopolize the "fun". Hey, you have a rating over 1800? You can play FNM, but you start at 15 life and little Johnny 1600 starts at 25…and he gets to go first every time.

I also find myself longing for some big multiplayer games because the Ferrett is damn straight… they ARE the most fun and I know. We used to get up to like twelve people over at my old place, and we had just some great games that way… So if that perhaps IS that most fun format, why has WotC just almost left it out of the tournament scene? Is there any less skill involved? I don’t think so, and in fact, after reading Herr Ferrett over the last few weeks I think one could make quite a case that the actual converse might be true. It might actually take MORE skill to win in a big multiplayer format… albeit a different skill set. This might be topped even by a FNM sort of environment where there’s handicapped multiplayer where the newbies get higher starting life totals…

In the end, all I’m really after is Tony Boydell MoJo. I’ve used extensive time travel trips to try and get the plot right – yet Mini-Tony always seems to foil the plot by breaching my space suit through the "What’s wrong with being sexy?" hole and paralyzing me with a wedgies…

Ah well…

Will Rieffer