State Chump: Turn and Face the Grey

Pale Mage returns from the land of zombies (you’ll just have to read it) to deliver his take on States, the Standard metagame, and the Magic world in general. If you’ve never read a Pale Mage article, he’s one of the more original writers in the game whose unique style is a welcome addition to the StarCityGames.com family.



"Dude! Turn the music down!"

"What’s that, Jack? I can’t hear you!"


"Here, let me turn the David Bowie down."

"Ah, that’s better. ‘Sup, my friend."

"Not much, Jack. How’ve you been?"

"Not bad. Haven’t seen you around much lately, dude."

"I’ve been busy."

"For six months?"

"Is that all it’s been? I’ve been changing my life."

"What, did you go through a recovery program or somethin’, dude?"

"Sort of. I’m making a go at it as an actor again."

"Please tell me you’re kidding."

"Nope. Got an agent and everything."

"So where are you waiting tables?"

"Very funny, Jack. Actually, do you know any place that’s hiring?"

"You aren’t working?"

"Oh, I’m working. I’ve been getting small industrial shoots and the like. Right now I’m working at an amusement park as a zombie butcher in a comedy show. That will carry me until November."

"Dude, that’s messed up."

"How so?"

"You’re wearing a rubber mask for money. A year ago you were walking into secure data centers for major companies."

"On some days I was. Who cares, the work sucked. You know what they say."

"No, dude. What do they say?"

"Out with the old, in with the new. Sorta like what happens to Magic this time of year."

"Dude, are you still playing that game?"

"Yup. I love this game. Never gonna quit."

"If you say so."

"I love this time of year. The newest Magic set becomes legal for Standard, and the block from two years ago fades away into Extended… and beyond."

"You needed some kind of echo effect for your voice there, duder."

"We’re on too tight a budget for that."

"Okay. So you like the new set?"

"Yes I do. Champions of Kamagawa is way cool. Way, way cool."

"Way, way cool?"


"No way."

"Jack, way."


"It’s a spicy set. The flavor text is good. The art is great. Rebecca Guay is back, and you know how I feel about her stuff."

"Let it never be said you don’t enjoy watercolors."

"Amen, brother. Amen. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any super-easy-to-break-in-Constructed mechanic, which is a nice change of pace."

"Or maybe you just haven’t seen it yet. Which wouldn’t be surprising considering how much you suck."

"Thank you, Jack. Thank you very much."

"No problem."

"Seriously, Jack. Look at these cards. How can you resist such cool cards? Don’t you just want to start playing right now?"

"Kumano, Master Yamabushi?"

"Yeah, Masticore guy. Or the new Arc-Slogger. Whatever you call him, he’s a board control beating."

"Dosan the Falling Leaf?"

"City of Solitude guy."

"Sakura-Tribe Elder? Zo-Zu the Punisher?"

"Rampant Growth guy. Ankh of Mishra guy."

"Dude, are there any creatures in this set you can’t rename some-older-card-guy?"

"How about this one."

"Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker?"

"Isn’t he fun, Jack? Isn’t he fun? The latest Intruder Alarm combo piece, and this one just might be fun enough to try."

"He could be called Echo Chamber guy."

"Almost, but not quite. Man, I can’t wait until I have more time to draft this set."

"Draft? Dude, you suck at drafting. I mean, you suck at Magic in general, but you really, really suck at drafting."

"Yes, I need to improve, Jack. That’s why I want to play the format. Besides, I think it’s probably smarter for me as a person of limited resources to avoid chasing too many of the new rares for Constructed. Given my schedule as a zombie, I’m not going to get a chance to play in any Constructed tournaments until the Extended PTQs anyway, so I have puh-lenty of time to decide exactly which singles I’ll need to get. It just kills me that I’m going to miss States!"


"State slash Province slash Territory Championships. I just call it States."

"Fair enough."

"States is unlike any other tournament of the year. First of all, the format is largely undefined, since it happens right after the rotation. Second of all, winning the tournament doesn’t grant an invite to another sexier tournament. This does a couple of things: It keeps some of the players from the upper end of the food chain home, and it keeps the atmosphere in the room less cutthroat. It isn’t quite as light as the mood at a prerelease, but it comes close. Third of all, it’s Standard, which doesn’t see a lot of larger tournament play."

"So you end up with a big tournament where no one is sure exactly what’s what and the a lot of the better players don’t show up?"

"Fighting over little more than pride."

"Dude. That does sound kinda fun."

"It does, doesn’t it?"

"Yeah. So, what is good to play for that sort of thing?"

"Well, typically right after a rotation you want to take a look at what the good decks were before everything changed and figure out what’s still standing."

"That makes sense, I guess."

"The strongest decks from Mirrodin Block Constructed survive, obviously. The only question is if they can be good in the new Standard. So that’s R/G Tooth and Nail, Mono-Red (a.k.a. Big Red), and Affinity. Stuff from the old Standard needs to get looked at, as well. KCI combo is one of those decks since it seemed to do well at Worlds. That’s not a definitive list, but you get the idea of how were putting it together."


"Cool. Anyway, then one checks the cards that are coming in and looks to see if they bring anything to the table for an existing archetype or define a new deck all on their own. I’m not going to speculate too much on that right now and risk boring the crap out of you, Jack."


"It does seem like B/G gets a couple of things, and B/G wasn’t terrible to begin with. But it’s a control deck, really. That alone might turn me away from it."

"Why, dude? You don’t like control?"

"It isn’t that. It’s just that the less defined an environment is, the better aggro tends to perform. Control decks are often carefully tuned to deal with the known environment, so the less concrete things are, the more they tend to suffer."

"So aggro is the way to go?"

"Well, I think so. It doesn’t hurt that the deck with the best track record happens to be aggro."

"Really, dude?"

"Uh, yeah. Affinity, Jack. Affinity was the defining deck its block format, and has been at the top of Standard alongside Goblins for awhile."


"Speaking of goblins, that’s good news for all of the Affinity haters. I remember going into this past Regionals it was nearly impossible to find something that could compete with Affinity and Goblins. That obviously helped out both decks a great deal. Affinity actually had more trouble in it’s own Block Constructed format without Goblins to guard its flank."

"So Affinity isn’t good to play, then?"

"No, it’s still good to play. In spite of all the hate, Affinity can still go the distance. It’s just more difficult, which it should be. But States is bound to be more random than the average Block Constructed PTQ was, so it will probably be an easier day for Disciple and company."

"So, it’s good?"

"Let me put it this way…yes. Here’s an interesting tidbit: a player could have started abusing the Affinity mechanic as soon as Mirrodin rotated in, made some changes when Darksteel was released, and replaced Skullclamp with Cranial Plating to comply with the banning. That mage can walk into States this month with the strongest deck in the format and a full year’s worth of experience piloting it. That’s quite an advantage."

"Seems fair."

"It’s as fair as anything in life. I’m not complaining. Come to think of it, that same mage can take that deck into the Extended PTQs this winter and expect to compete."

"Dude. That sounds like a strong deck."

"It’s more than that, Jack. It’s a lesson in value. Constructed Magic can be an expensive hobby if one lets it get out of hand. If there is an opportunity to build a deck that is competitive in multiple formats then take it. More bang for the literal buck is a good thing. Arcbound Ravager is an expensive card if you’re only going to run it in three tourneys. If you’re going to run it in nine, ten, twelve, fifteen…you get the idea."

"States is just one tournament, dude."

"What’s your point, Jack?"

"Well, if States doesn’t really count for anything but braggin’ rights and I ain’t got no Affinity deck, it ain’t worth puttin’ together for me."

"I disagree. Affinity is likely to still be competitive when Regionals rolls around. There’s more than bragging rights on the line for that one. Many Friday Night Magic events are Standard. I already mentioned the deck could be run in Extended. There will be plenty of chances to play the deck."

"Oh. Are you going to play Affinity in Extended, dude?"

"Well, not likely. In my position, Affinity is not a great investment. I’m not going to make it to States, and I already have equity in other decks for Extended. But if I was attending States and if I expected to be playing in the upcoming Extended PTQs, I wouldn’t hesitate to complete a quality Affinity deck. I’d be saving money in the long run, and I’d have a good deck to play. I’d be saving time, too. The learning curve for playtesting would be shortened."

"Dude, I would agree with you, but it just seems like that would be putting all of your eggs into one basket. What if Wizards printed a card that just completely hosed the deck?"

"Jack, that’s already happened."

"Huh? Then why would you ever play Affinity?"

"Wizards has printed a few cards that can kneecap Affinity on paper. There’s one in Champions of Kamigawa. Imi Statue. The thing is, Affinity can easily pack answers for that card, and in many cases it can almost ignore it. No hoser card completely locks Affinity out, anyway. Since the deck can do an awful lot of damage with very little, it is almost never out of the game. Damping Matrix, March of the Machines, and now Imi Statue… Affinity will have to deal with them, but it can."

"Man, it would be cool to have all three of those cards out against Affinity."

"I suppose so, but then your deck would be crap so it would hardly matter."

"Fair enough, man. So, what does Affinity look like?"

"Jack, are you asking me for a decklist?"

"I guess so."

"Look one up yourself you lazy sack. Try magicthegathering.com and look for anything that finished high in the Standard portion of Worlds or Grand Prix: New Jersey. There’s a ton of info out there about the deck already and I don’t feel like reinventing the wheel too much today."

"I dunno."

"You don’t know what, Jack?"

"I dunno if I would play that deck."

"Why not?"

"I might not be able to get all the cards in time."

"Jack, there’s only like two rares in the deck, Glimmervoid and Arcbound Ravager. Well, and Blinkmoth Nexus, assuming you run them. Which you should."

"Yeah, but I’m out in the sticks, dude."

"No problem. You can always find the cards you need from quality internet retailers like the good folks at starcitygames.com."

"Heh. We’re subtle."

"What we lack in delicacy we make up for in sheer style, Jack. Anyway, it’s true. In this day in age, if you want the singles and you have the scratch you can get them."


"The hepcats will understand me."

"Fair enough, dude."

"But that’s not the point. The point is the segue."

"The segue is between the points, dude. It’s the journey, man. Dig?"

"I do indeed. More to the point let’s answer the question."


"Jack, what if you cannot or will not acquire the Arcbound Ravagers? Does this mean you can’t enjoy playing 2/2s and 4/4s for free?"


"No! No, sir, it does not! It does mean your deck isn’t the best in the world, but we’re talking about States here. There’s a lot of leeway."


"The idea is to remain aggressive. Just throw in Atog as your replacement and you’re ready to go. Heck, the only Affinity deck I hauled around in my kit used two City of Brass in place of Glimmervoid since I didn’t have ’em. Improvise."

"Make crap up? Is that wise?"

"Probably not, but why should we suppress ourselves at this point? I say, if it feels good, do it! If you want to maindeck some Green cards like Oxidize or Naturalize, go for it! If you’d rather have those Shrapnel Blast available for game one, make it happen! If you’d like to add Mana Leak, be my guest!"

"Or have ’em all!"

"Hold up. Think this through. We still want a chance of winning a game."

"Sorry. I got carried away."

"It’s all right. The main skeleton of the deck can survive a few card slot changes, so tweaking it to suit one’s own sensibilities is not going to be the end of the world, especially at States. Just don’t think you can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear."


"The old farm boys will understand me."

"So how fun is States really going to be if everyone is going to be playing the same deck, dude?"

"Jack, what makes you think everyone is going to be playing the same thing?"

"Well, if Affinity is so strong, everyone is going to play it. Why are you laughing at me, dude? That’s not very nice."

"Oh, Jack. You have so much to learn."

"Like what?"

"Like human nature, for one thing. It’s springtime for M:tG when the October rotation hits. Sure, it’s out with the old, in with the new, but it’s the new that gets the attention. There are hundreds of brand new cards begging to make their way into decks. While it is wise to think about the good decks that still exist, the fact is the metagame feels largely undefined to many people. Potential is everywhere!"

"So, it’s like a blank slate."

"It feels like a blank slate. Suddenly, every Joe Cardflopper has the deckbuilding skills of Brian Kibler. He’s broken the format with his U/W Honden deck. Meanwhile, his friend is busy working on White Weenie, which Bushido has saved from the pits of hell."

"Dude, really? White Weenie is good again?"

"No, I don’t think so. Even if it were, that’s not the point. There’s a lot of experimentation and enthusiasm infused in the decks one sees at States. It creates a more diverse environment than one would see compared to a similar sized PTQ."

"Oh, right. Is that bad?"

"No, it’s just different. It does change some things, though. The ‘random deck’ factor means a truly competitive deck can carry its pilot further into the winning brackets all on its own. Combine that with fewer heavy hitters at the tables, and suddenly any solid player with a decent deck has an honest shot at winning the whole thing."

"You mean a good player with an Affinity deck."

"It doesn’t have to be Affinity, Jack. It could be something with lots of new cards in it. It just has to be a good deck. It needs to be tested against the expected field, and yes that includes Affinity. Like I said, people like to play with the new cards. How can one resist Zo-Zu the Punisher? C’mon, you gotta put some stuff around that guy at least once, right? Or Cranial Extraction. Isn’t the thought of resolving that spell against Tooth and Nail too big a temptation? There’s a whole cycle of dragons in this set, for crying out loud! Everybody loves dragons."

"So, it’s okay to play with your own deck at this thing?"

"Of course! Heck, I can think of one or two things I’d at least start testing if I was going to play at States this year. I might even forsake the expected best deck in the format and run one of ’em it proved fun to pilot."

"Like what, dude?"

"Well, that’s going to have to wait for another time, Jack. I’ve got to get to work."

"Dude, putting on a mask and acting like a fool is not work."

"I know, but they’re going through the trouble of printing the check with my name on it, so I’m gonna cash it."

"Fair enough, dude."

Pale Mage.