By the time you’re reading this, I’m probably several rounds into Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, hopefully doing well and winning with some sweet deck.
Generally speaking, I tend to take Pro Tour weeks off from writing articles, simply because there’s so much to do to prepare and I just don’t have the
time. This time, though, I decided to take a different approach and ask you all what I should write about! It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a
“mailbag” type of article, so I took questions on my website and now I’m going to answer them!
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions. I got a good variety of different topics that I had a lot of fun talking about!
Without further ado, here’s your BMK Q&A!
A: Resonance is really important. A game based solely on mechanics isn’t going to be nearly as popular as a game that evokes feelings that people have for
classic stories and tropes. For instance, one of my favorite SolForge cards is Everflame Phoenix, which uses the leveling system in a really cool way. It’s
a fiery bird at level one, but at level two it’s just a pile of ash. If you level up with the ashes in play, though, it immediately becomes a level three
Phoenix, and whenever the level three Phoenix dies, it becomes ashes again. It’s a really cool and a classic story weaved within the mechanics of our game.
A: I’ve actually played a wide variety of decks over the years. My first Grand Prix win was with Mono-Blue and I was well known as a control player for a
long time. Even after my first PT Top 8 with my R/G/W deck featuring Rith, the Awakener in 2000, I played Psychatog and Illusions/Donate and all sorts of
similar stuff in Grand Prix and Pro Tours. It wasn’t until I came back to the game more recently and found that creatures are actually finally good that I
started to develop a tendency to play Wild Nacatl and friends. Generally speaking, I prefer proactive strategies that have flexible tools to combat both
aggro and control, which tends to put me firmly in the midrange camp.
A: I get a lot of questions about critiquing decks, and while I may take a look at something that someone sends me, I don’t really have the time to respond
to the requests that I get. A lot of people say things like “oh, it’ll only take five minutes” or whatever, but five minutes adds up when dozens or even
hundreds of people are asking for your advice.
A: I’m fortunate to have a very flexible schedule, so I can make time to travel to events. I certainly think the fact that I work full time impacts my
ability to compete at the highest levels in Magic, though. Compare LSV nowadays (working full time as a game designer) to a few years ago when he was
playing Magic full time and his results are clearly suffering for it. Similarly, look at Huey, Owen, and Reid, who are all legitimately pro Magic players
these days. The time and effort they have put in has clearly paid off big time.
A: I don’t think I’m one of the ten best players in the US right now, if for no other reason than that I don’t commit nearly enough time to Magic as I’d
need to in order to be on top of my game. I think that when I’m dedicated and playing my best, I’m one of the best, but that’s just not the case these
days. I have too many other demands on my time, and I don’t dedicate nearly as much time and effort to Magic as many of the current top players. In the
average week, the only Magic I actually play tends to be the videos that I make for SCG, and maybe a few games of whatever the format for the next Grand
Prix might be. The only exception is before Pro Tours, when I take time off from work and dedicate a solid week to playing – but even that isn’t enough to
gain the same level of familiarity that comes from playing all the time.
As far as who those top players are – it’s hard for me to say, since I don’t really get that many chances to watch many people play. Huey was one of the
greats back when we were both playing almost a decade ago, and he seems to be back in the swing of things and dominating everything he plays, so it’s hard
not to include him on such a list. Similarly, Reid and Owen have both put up incredible performances this season, surely due in no small part to their
dedication to the game and collaboration with Huey and each other. Ben Stark is another person who’s consistently impressive, and has put up some
incredible numbers this season and clearly thinks about the game on a level that many players never reach.
Really, though, Top X lists are almost always “Who’s been doing well lately” lists more than anything, or an excuse to put people down or build people up.
I don’t really care too much about that, so I don’t see much value in making them.
A: Decided I wanted to or thought that I actually could? I remember when I was in high school and I won a $100 tournament at a local shop, and I used it as
an excuse to convince my mother to let me quit my horrible amusement part catering job. Similarly, I quit my work-study job in college when I started
playing Magic again and qualified for the Pro Tour and my hours were getting in the way of my playtesting. When I got third place in PT Chicago in 2000, I
deposited my 15K prize check, and my balance was $15,025.25. I kept that ATM receipt for a long time.
A: The most compelling thing about Magic to me is the challenge of figuring things out. That’s the reason that I’ve made a name for myself as more of a
deckbuilder than anything, because the process of getting to the point of having a good deck is much of the fun to me. I would probably do better in
tournaments if I were willing to just play stock decks more often, but I don’t think I’d enjoy the game nearly as much.
A: I get the idea of the new electronic devices policy, but I think the specifics are flawed. This weekend at GP Minneapolis, I just stood and shuffled and
listened to my music because electronic device use was prohibited once I sat down. I’m told that the policy will be changed in the future to forbid the use
of any devices with internet access rather than all devices in general, though, which I think is the right direction. People who are legitimately looking
to gain access to info online during a match will still just go to the bathroom and look it up on their phone, though, so I’m really not sure what good it
A: I think one of the biggest leaps in understanding players have in draft is when they learn to legitimately read signals and try to draft what is coming
to them. Lots of players pick a card in one color, and then a card in another color, and then just keep taking cards in those colors for the rest of the
draft. Sometimes that works, sure, but often you’ll be much better off reacting to what you’re being passed and building you deck based on what you can
expect to see in the future rather than your first few picks.
A: I think the most important card in Journey overall is Mana Confluence. It has the potential to impact Legacy and Modern in addition to Standard. I’m
really tempted to revive my Pillar of the Paruns deck now that it can play eight copies of City of Brass.
A: I devour content online. I don’t watch videos, really, because I’m a luddite, or because I generally read Magic articles when I’m doing other things,
but I read tons of stuff online. I generally read most of the premium content here on SCG, as well as the Select stuff by authors who are writing about
formats that I’m going to be playing in the near future. There’s a ton of value in being versed in what other people are talking about, because it can have
far-reaching implications on tournament formats, and you don’t want to be the one in the dark when everyone else knows about some sweet tech.
A: Mostly excellent genetics, but also a lot of time in the gym.
1) Probably the format when I played Red Zone to my Top 8. There’s some bias there, of course, but it felt like a time that there were a lot of cool things
to be discovered despite most people clustering to a few similar decks.
2) Red Zone. It was my deck through and through, and people laughed at it during deck registration. By the end of the tournament the general consensus was
that it was the best in the tournament. That I didn’t help make? Maybe Mihara’s PT Theros deck. That was glorious to watch in action, even if it didn’t
survive past the PT itself.
3) I think I have a better sense of game systems in general, and can identify what’s important in a format/matchup better than most people as a result.
4) I didn’t do a ton of big lifts back then. My school gym didn’t have a squat rack or anything, almost certainly because they were afraid of us hurting
A: It’s weird, but only occasionally creepy weird. It’s sort of surreal, though, especially since I still feel like the awkward fat kid I was growing up a
lot of the time.
A: Green, obviously. That was one of the first decks I built for PT Theros, but it didn’t quite pan out in the end.
A: I was the third person in the company, behind Justin Gary and John Fiorillo. Justin and I had talked about wanting to work together on game projects for
a long time after we both left Upper Deck, and eventually he got a contract that meant that there was actually real paying work for me to do, so I got on
board at the beginning of 2010 (though I’d helped playtest early iterations of Ascension as early as summer 2009).
A: I feel fortunate to be in the position that I am, where people give weight to my opinions and things I say have a broad reach. As a result, I feel like
I should use that power for good.
Traveling definitely throws off my routine, and is the biggest hurdle to both exercise and nutrition plans. I brought a bunch of sets of workout clothes
with me on this trip, though, and I already hit up the gym in my GP Minneapolis hotel during my byes. I plan on working out every day leading up to the Pro
Tour in Atlanta, as well, and I’ve been sticking to my diet so far, at least.
A: More generally, my competitive nature makes it difficult for me to play almost any game “for fun.” I have zero interest in something like EDH because
the philosophy of the format is absolutely at odds with the reasons I play the game in the first place. I certainly think a lot of players are far too
close-minded when it comes to card evaluations, though. I nearly played Ajani, Mentor of Heroes in my Modern deck this weekend because I think it’s a
super-powerful card in attrition-based matchups.
A: I started playing Magic in a very different time. I played in the very first Pro Tour in the Junior division because all I had to do was have my mom
call in and say I wanted to play. I won the first Grand Prix I played in (back in 1997), but it had fewer players than many PTQs today. Magic is much
bigger now, and players are much better in general now, and it’s much harder to have that breakout finish.
A: The most compelling thing to me about Magic is that it’s a constantly shifting challenge. New sets with new cards spawn new decks and you have to figure
everything out all over again. There’s really nothing else quite like it out there.
A: Yes, but my family’s tree burned down a while back, destroying the whole cookie business. That’s why I took up playing Magic to help pay the bills.
A: Magic should be about creatures. Creatures are the only baseline reason that players ever interact in a game of Magic. If it were not
for creatures attacking and blocking, cards would only ever interact with one another when they explicitly said so, and that’s not a recipe for interesting
A: Probably the PT Chicago 2000 semifinals against Kai Budde. I certainly wasn’t pleased to lose, but it was my first really big finish, and I was ecstatic
to have made it that far.
A: I’d probably ban Thoughtseize from Standard. Note that I don’t think this is something WotC should actually do, because banning cards from Standard
(especially popular rares or mythics) has huge customer confidence implications, but I think the card makes games less fun to play and decks less fun to
build. It should never have been reprinted in the first place.
A: People can really just be nicer to one another. There’s enough negativity directed at gamers and gamer culture from outside. We don’t need to be beating
up on one another too.
A: I don’t think WotC has a lot to gain from supporting Legacy. Frankly, Legacy exists as a competitive format mostly because it is in the interests of the
secondary market to promote it and maintain/increase the price of the cards. I enjoy playing Legacy now and then, but it’s simply not sufficiently
accessible to ever really take off more widely.
A: Finkel has some pretty dapper pics of himself on Facebook. Maybe we can get a collection going.
A: I don’t really play a lot of Magic that isn’t directly in preparation for tournaments, so I haven’t played much Standard lately. I literally have not
played a game with any card from the new set. I generally don’t give up on ideas. I might take a break to work on other things, but I love trying to make
deck ideas work.
A: Hard to choose between the club mix of “Everafter” and “Now or Never.” They’re both great.
A: American Crew pomade is the best I’ve found. Good shape and hold without leaving your hair stiff to the touch.
A: I think the only correct answer to this question is Daybreak Ranger.
A: People vastly underestimate the importance of comfort and familiarity. Especially since I can’t devote as much time to Magic as I might need to be able
to learn the ins and outs of every deck I might want to play in any format, there’s a lot of value to knowing how to play a particular style of deck very
well. My general approach to formats is to spend my time working on the kind of deck I want to play, which is usually some kind of green
creature deck, and if I can’t get it to work to my satisfaction, I audible to whatever deck the rest of my playtest group thinks is the best. I think
people often overstate the gap in power level between different decks, and I’d rather play a good deck that I know I’ll play well than a great deck that I