Sullivan Library – The Disagreeables of 2007

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Adrian is in a disagreeable mood. Today’s Sullivan Library looks back at some of things, people, and ideas that have ground his gears in 2007. He disagrees with his home town, with many a writer on this very site, with Wizards of the Coast, and much more! Do you agree or disagree with him? Click here to find out!

2007 has actually been a fantastic year. Despite my wearing a sash celebrating the end of 2007 for a portion of the night of New Year’s Eve, I’ve actually loved most of it. Many of my friends didn’t have as great a year, and heck, I’d say that the country had a kind of crappy 2007, but for the country, that’s just one year in a long stream of crappy years. 2008 looks like it could be an even greater year yet — at least here’s hoping!

That said, there were a lot of things that have happened in the last year and in the dawn of this new year that prompt me to disagreement. I don’t think I can go into everything that I’ve disagreed with in the past twelve-and-a-half, months, but I think I can give it a good go. Let’s go to it!

Disagreeing with Madison

Anyone that has read my articles knows that I am a big booster of my town of Madison, Wisconsin. There’s a lot going for Madison, and I’m really pleased with how positive an impact living in Madison has had on my life, not only with regards to Magic. One of the most impressive parts about Madison to me is its vibrant Limited scene.

There have definitely been times in which I would strongly consider Madison to be the best city in the world for Limited (Invasion Block Limited comes to mind). These days, it would be high on my list, but I wouldn’t feel confident enough to actually make that claim. Madison actually has a lot of pride about its successes in Limited, both regionally and beyond, and looks at itself (quite rightly, I think) as generally ahead of the curve on limited.

And Madison hates Lorwyn Limited. Now, I’m no Lorwyn Limited guru, but the arguments that I hear from people about why Lorwyn Limited is somewhat crappy always remind me of other complaints from various Limited formats. Usually, it means that the people that are making the commentary are simply not doing well with the format. Formats change, sometimes radically. During Invasion Block draft, for example, Madison viewed 16 land as often a ‘medium’ mana deck, and 17 was a lot. During Time Spiral draft, Madison felt that heavy Black was a superior early plan (and could use that as a way to branch into several potential Black decks). The general view of Lorwyn is that since the Tribes don’t overlap each other much, there is far less natural counterdrafting and signaling possible, and victors will often be determined by which Tribe you move into, and how good that pool is. Looking at the repeated success of some drafters in the format, I feel like what is more likely is that there must be clear ways to get edges that are largely being missed by the city as a whole. Magic changes a lot with each successive set, so I expect that when Morningtide comes out, it will likely create a large enough of a shift to give Madison a new chance to figure out the new format.

Disagreeing with Evan Erwin

I only recently met Evan during Pro Tour: Valencia, and let me say, I was resoundingly impressed by him. If nothing else, he’s a fantastic guy, and I’m pretty sure that there is a lot more that would qualify under that “else” label. Evan’s “The Magic Show” has become something that I very much look forward to watching, and I’m so glad that he’s been plugging away at it, improving all the way.

I would definitely have to say that his recent Year in Review had something for me to disagree with. He examined the year’s best articles, and while I was sad to see that he didn’t include me in his personal top ten (What about my article about Valencia? I got a huge volume of positive e-mail on that one… Or what about One and especially my 4-1 article, both of which I thought were great contributions?), the big thing I have to disagree with him about was his choice for the article of the year.

Now, no offense intended to Richard Feldman, for his fantastic article One Game. That article was well and truly a fantastic contribution to the site. I still don’t think I would even consider that article one of Richard’s best, though, for the year, as he has largely been so fantastic. Even then, if I were to try to narrow it down to what I think Richard’s best article was, it doesn’t touch the best article of the year.

The best article of the year, clearly and without question, is Evan Erwin The Magic Show 66 — Pro Tour: Valencia. I’ve shown this piece to so many people. Patrick Chapin hit the nail on the head in the forums of it. I’ll quote his post in its entirety: “Absolutely unreal. By far, one of the greatest pieces of Magic media I have ever seen/read/whatever. Evan, you literally blew my mind. I am a believer. Please, keep doing what you are doing, and keep improving your product. You actually are the Magic storyteller.”

I’m sure Evan didn’t nominate himself for the best article of the year because he would find that gaudy, or perhaps he is simply too humble to actually see it. Whatever the case may be, he’s wrong, and I disagree with him.

Disagreeing with Patrick Chapin

Speaking of Patrick Chapin, Patrick recently went out there and did pretty fantastically for himself at Worlds (congratulations and condolences, once again). In the aftermath of Worlds, he was looking at Extended and recently had this to say about the current format:

“Go 2-0 and you won’t have to worry about facing Dredge.”

His implication seems to be that Dredge doesn’t matter. It won’t win, so ignore it. I can’t more strongly disagree with him. While clearly Patrick’s deck (the Counterbalance deck he’s terming “Next Level Blue”) is a contender, just as he claims, so is Dredge. In the PTQ in Roanoke this weekend, Next Level Blue won it, but two Dredge decks made the Top 4. In St. Louis, Dredge won the whole thing, and I’m hearing rumors of other Dredge wins, and many high placements.

If you want to win a PTQ, really want to win a PTQ, the way to go about it is to practice to death four to five different decks, bring them all to the PTQ, and select the one best prepared for the metagame. That’s pretty unfeasible in the real world, so probably what you’re going to have to do is simply get as good as you can at one or two decks, and try your best to make the metagame call for your neck of the woods. This is a format where there are at minimum twelve decks worth seriously considering taking to a PTQ that you actually intend to win.

Disagreeing with Wizards of the Coast

So, Wizards of the Coast has recently changed its rules regarding our various Level 3 Mages and what kind of benefits that they can expect to receive. As the pool of Level 3 players was growing, their expenses to maintain the Pro Tour were just growing and growing, and something had to give. A part of their solution was to remove the $500 appearance award that they would give out to the Level 3 player.

Zac Hill already very successfully addressed some of the ramifications of WotC’s decision that he feels are unfair for those players who budgeted their coming year (including the end of the previous one) based on their expectations of receiving the $500 dollars. He hit on some points that I hadn’t considered, and I think it is well worth your time to read his article if you’re curious about that issue.

Most of us, though, are not Level 3 Mages, or close to it. Most of us fall into Levels 0 to 1. We have to play in PTQs if we’re going to want to make it to the big show, and it is already a traditionally very hard path to make it there via the PTQ. When you’re among the best in the game, walking into a PTQ and winning it still isn’t a done deal, even if you’ve got a far better chance than almost anyone in the room. These days, though, most of us are not the best in the room. At best, we’re one of the best in the room. This means that even before the Wizards policy change, it was a hard fight.

Just read Patrick Chapin most recent article. He knocked five players out of the running in the Swiss. Then, in the Top 8, he knocks out Cedric Phillips and John Swearingen, before conceding to a teammate.

Nothing Patrick did was against the rules. Nothing that he did was wrong. It’s the fact that he could do it that sucks. And that is Wizards’ responsibility.

Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t been able to play that day? Would Cedric Phillips, an incredibly talented player, be back on the Tour? I wouldn’t be surprised. It absolutely could have ended up with anyone winning, even the eventually winner, Patrick’s teammate Kyle, but it doesn’t change the fact that to win a PTQ, you might not only have to beat the best unqualified players in the area, but you might have to actually beat one of the best players in the world.

This, frankly, sucks.

Most of you are probably too new to tournaments to remember what the world was like the last time that already qualified players could play in events. While it was a pain for everyone, locally, it was god-awful. One team, Team ACD, would regularly qualify each and every single member of its primary team for the Pro Tour via “blocking.” Blocking is the act of having pre-qualified members of the team play in the field to knock out any of the unqualified players’ rivals. It was a rough time to live in the Chicago area — Team ACD’s “Masters” team included six guys who had been to most of the Pro Tours up to that point, and also included “Junior” members who would also block. En masse, they would seed the metagame, conceding to each other so that the Masters would have the best possible rating, the best possible matchup, and the best chance to Q. In more than one PTQ, there would have more than twenty members of their team collaborating together for wins, and I remember a span of almost two years where no unaffiliated individual ever won a PTQ. If it wasn’t Team ACD, it was one of the (few) other rival teams.

This is not good for the game.

If Wizards is concerned about the rising costs of the Pro Tour Club, there are many options. Raising the threshold to become Level 3 is a very reasonable alternative to a system that throws the sharks back into the little pond. Even if many of them do not end up recreating the hell that was organized Magic ten years ago, there is nothing to stop them from doing it.

Disagreeing with a spectator at this weekend’s PTQ

In the match that knocked me out of the PTQ this weekend, I was faced with a very easy decision. Creatures in a combat were dying, and my opponent was about to move on without untapping his Goblin Sharpshooter. I reached over and indicated that it had to untap.

He did untap it, and it strongly contributed to his beating me in that match, though things were so incredibly grim for me at that time, that he’d have to make even more errors than he had already made for me to actually pull out of it. He had made an earlier error, and had been on tilt ever since, but even so it was not enough for me to make it through.

After the match, one of the spectators expressed his frustration with me indicating that the Sharpshooter had to untap. “You practically reached over the table and played for him.”

As I see it, the rules require me to make sure that the reality of the game is enforced. I certainly didn’t indicate to him that the Goblin Sharpshooter had ‘untapped’ four times, and I don’t think that I would be required to. On the other hand, once it was clear that he was moving on (using shortcuts like we almost always do), it is my duty to maintain the state of the game, and make sure that he has his Sharpshooter untapped.

This reminds me about the other side of the coin from an event that happened locally, maybe about a year ago. I can’t remember the details well, but I do remember that shortcuts were being employed during a combat where trample was involved, and I allowed my opponent to poorly declare how much damage I was receiving so that I survived when I should have died. I don’t think it’s my job to make sure that my opponent declares damage to me properly from a strategic point of view, but I am obliged to try to make sure the rules work out.

Both of these things are different than simple gaffes. If I had simply not noticed that the Sharpshooter hadn’t untapped, that isn’t cheating. It is sloppy. But once I’ve noticed that it isn’t untapped, Sharpshooter doesn’t have a “may” clause. It has to be untapped. On the car ride home, Sam Black compared this to an event that happened to him in the qualifying tournament for the Win A Car event at Worlds. He pointed out the rules-required result of some action, and it caused him to lose. He just couldn’t picture doing something else, though. I asked him how he would have felt if he had won the car, knowing that he had cheated along the way to winning it, and he said, “Not good.”

In telling this story to one friend of mine, he replied, “Good luck ever staying on the Pro Tour, then.” His cynical reply may be true, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to untap that next Sharpshooter, and the one after that.

Disagreeing with Tom LaPille

Tom’s long had a view on deck credit that is both similar to mine, and resoundingly different. Essentially, Tom’s view on things is that a deck is neither invented nor designed by someone but is rather discovered, and he takes offense to people (he often alludes to or outright names Flores in this) “claim this deck for Spain,” so to speak. Only people that are in R&D’s Far Future League would have any rights to “design,” he seems to say.

I essentially agree with his idea of deck discovery. These decks exist out there, waiting to be found. The cards are all there, and it is in their combination that things are born, and it is true, largely, that most of us aren’t playing with cards that we designed at any tournament that we might be playing.

That said, even while I agree with his model of ‘discovery,’ there are certain ‘discoveries’ that seem well worth celebrating and making note of. Obviously, it’s not that groundbreaking to make a “new” Goblin deck and claim that you’ve “discovered” it. In a lot of ways this is akin to discovering the popular bar or café that everyone knows about downtown, or discovering that if you add chocolate to milk that it is pretty tasty.

Some things, however, are not obvious. From my own history, I would say that Scepter-Chant, The Baron, Eminent Domain, Kooky-Jooky, and Necro-combo (in the form of the Dread Panda) were not abundantly obvious. If you ask me, deck credit is a very important way to not only differentiate between specific variants of decks (as Mike Flores wisely pointed out in response to LaPille), but also a good way to honor those people that have broken new ground.

Disagreeing with the common wisdom/apathy/confusion

Apparently there are a lot of Rock decks out there. Brian Kowal said that he’d love to run around and completely reconfigure the naming conventions that people use these days to name certain decks. “Don’t even get me started on the so-called ‘Metagame Breakdown’ that they give before and after PTs!” he growled.

If you look at how people are currently naming decks, if it is Black and Green, I guess it must be the Rock. Or something.


Once again, Flores is great here, often setting some builds of Black/Green as “Macey.dec” or sometimes “Macey Rock,” which is at least better than simply calling it The Rock. Here’s perhaps a good guideline in figuring out what to call decks that you might be tempted to call “The Rock.”

The Rock — Black/Green/x. A midrange deck that leans, often heavily, towards midrange control (though is occasionally a pure control deck that leans slightly into midrange control). Attempts to gain disrupt the opponent via various means, including discard and board control, and eventually wins with a large creature.

PT Junk — Green/White/(and usually Black). A midrange aggro deck. It attempts to put out large threats quickly, while disrupting the game plan of its opponent, keeping the opponent’s game plan off balance via anti-beatdown or anti-control cards, respectively. Often characterized by very large, undercosted creatures.

Macey dot dec — Black/Green/(and occasionally x). A pure aggro deck that puts out cheap creatures and attempts to kill quickly. This deck is most often seen in the popular variant “Aggro-Flow” (a deck that is often woefully misnamed “Flow-Rock”), though is occasionally seen in a discard-heavy variant running only Black/Green and equipment.

Each of these decks (midrange control, midrange aggro, and aggro) can potentially have many different variants, but they all essentially behave differently enough that it is a disservice to yourself and anyone you might be talking to if you lump them all together as “The Rock.”

Disagreeing with me?

Tell me why in the forums.

I look forward to seeing you all at any event I might be at. I’ll be plugging away, trying to get back onto the PT once again, and I hope I’ll be seeing you there!

Adrian Sullivan