The Centismal: Mailbag Into My Life

For his 100th article for StarCityGames, Stephen tries something a little different: he answers questions posed by readers on a variety of Magic and non-Magic subjects! He looks back over his collected works, and shares a little of his successes and failures. He describes his brief flirtation with facial hair, and pens a poem to his favorite card of all time! Congratulations on your 100, Stephen… here’s to the next milestone!

Before we begin, let me take a moment to take stock of where we are. If the title wasn’t clear, this is my one hundredth column for this website. I’ve put off writing this article for a few weeks because it’s daunting. It’s intimidating and intimate. It’s something you want to be comfortable re-reading because it is a milestone.

And yet, in this moment I’m feeling bittersweet pride. I’m proud of this website and the quality of the content I’ve provided for it. Yet, I’d be omitting an important part of how I feel if I didn’t admit that a part of me is a little ashamed to have written 100 articles about Magic, the card game. Not so much because of the stigma of being associated with a card game, so much as that in that time I must have spent countless hours writing about Magic instead of some other, seemingly more important, issue or subject.

The reason why is clear to me.

I like to expound. When I have a thought or an opinion on some matter that I’ve thought deeply about, there is little I like better than to tell people what I think.

I remember the moment I thought about submitting an article SCG. I was reading an article by Oscar Tan and suddenly I wondered if I should submit an article. It seemed like such a foreign concept. I was full of doubt for some reason.

A few months later, I urged my friend Paul Mastriano to help me write an article on the new Vintage deck: Masknaught. Paul was a very funny guy. I wasn’t confidant that I could write an article that people would find interesting. Paul gave me a bit of material that I had to flesh out. The result was pretty lackluster. It mixes Paul’s casual writing style with my more hard-edged analytical approach.

However, having overcome that hump of a first article, I decided to simply write in a style and in an approach that I felt wholly comfortable with: expounding. The result is one of my proudest articles:

How to Gro-Atog and Clip a Lotus.

A few months later, I used the same approach and write an even longer primer on Stax. I remember attending Grand Prix Pittsburgh where I met Pete Hoefling, the owner of StarCityGames. He told me that my articles were enormously popular. I was quite surprised to find that out. I had no intention of writing continuously for this site. I wrote because I wanted to articulate my ideas and communicate them to people who were willing to read them.

However, by the summer of 2003, I realized that I had a lot to say besides presenting decklists and writing primers. I started out with the “Ten Principles of Type One.” That worked and I decided to become a Featured Writer.

In my first article as a Featured Writer, I made clear what I was trying to accomplish. Vintage was no longer seen quite as a dead format, thanks in part to Oscar Tan, but it certainly was considered the backwoods of Magic.

My hope was to help systematize and define Vintage in a more scientific manner. Although I respected Oscar Tan, I found that his writing style (whether by choice or necessity of writing on a weekly basis) was rather casual. I wanted my articles to be more “adult” and more academic, more “scientific” if you will. In other words, I wanted my articles to be serious and taken seriously. I wanted to raise the bar on writing about Vintage (and potentially Magic in general), and to present the format as the format for intelligent people who sought an enjoyable outlet for their mental energies.

As I look back, I find that I have a lot to be proud about. However, there are times and articles that I cringe when I think about. My Psychatog Primer was written a year late. I wrote it to get on paper everything I knew about a deck that I basically had stopped playing. It was a year late and everyone knew it. I was particularly embarrassed when the editor hyped it up, simply because I felt guilty about writing on a topic that wasn’t particularly salient, and what’s worse, was hyped as something everyone should read. On the other hand, I’m proud of the fact that I have taken chances. My five axis-metagame article is as wacky as it is insightful. My brief stints into Extended and Legacy were entertaining and worthwhile. My approach to in-game analysis is something I’ve relished doing, because I get to show off my analytical skills and learn a lot in the process.

The articles I’ve enjoyed writing the most were the articles where I was treading into controversy — where I was writing about some issue to persuade, or some deck to convince the reader that they should play it. The articles I have been most ashamed of were articles where I was writing to make my monthly quota (there are a few out there), and articles where I was writing on a topic I thought would be popular rather than something I could lecture about.

In late 2004, it quickly became apparent that as much as I enjoyed lecturing on topics I’ve thought deeply about, I simply couldn’t justify the time writing for the payscale. Then Premium came around and my output has held quite steady ever since. That isn’t to say that I would have stopped writing altogether, but I probably would be writing three to four articles a year instead of on a nearly weekly basis.

The important point is that this isn’t about me. Becoming a public figure in the Magic community has its ups and downs. Being public has meant that people are waiting for you to fail. I can’t even go to a Prerelease and play in a draft without being approached. Whenever I go to a Vintage event, I feel extreme pressure to socialize and chat with people. I can’t ever regain my anonymity. At first, I liked it. I liked being recognized and chatted to by lots of people. But it wears on me. I can’t walk through a tournament hall without feeling pressure to speak to someone, or to say “hi” to a dozen people, especially in Vintage. It would be so nice to sit down round 1 of a tournament as a total unknown, simply because my opponents often have that benefit.

Worse still, I am often perceived as an “ambassador” for the format. I am not a good diplomat for Vintage. When I expound, I enjoy the to and fro of a good debate. This is a niche of my life where I can argue ad nauseam without social consequences. However, I do feel pressures to try and be nice to others. I don’t want to be liked, but I don’t want to be hated either. I want to be respected, and that’s pretty much it. It’s a happy middle ground between quiescence and unbridled arrogance.

Despite all of that, I managed to build up some sort of name for myself. This is the upside to being a public figure: I am asked to design for the Invitational. I have regular contact with people “in-the-know,” and can make a positive influence for the format and for the game. Unfortunately, that power demands some level of responsibility. I do not have the luxury of just spouting whatever diatribe is on my mind.

As I look back, my body of work has given me some additional pause. It’s a little sad that despite all of these writings, Magic changes so much that as informative as many of my articles may be, they simply lose a lot of their salience over time. And yet, when I go back and re-read what I’ve said, a lot of it is fascinating.

My only fear is that someday in the future, when I’ve stopped writing about Vintage, this content will be lost. I hope that the Vintage players of the future will have access to this work. It will provide an interesting historical backdrop to their efforts.

But as I said, this isn’t about me. And I can say that with perfect honesty. The truth of the matter is that writing about Vintage is not something that I do for my own well-being or self-worth. A Google search of my name reveals an embarrassing body of work to people who don’t know about, or care about, Magic. It’s about the content, and it always has been.

This brief reflection on my work has left me with one promise to myself and to my readers: I will pay more heed to what I care about writing, and less about what I think my readers care to read. If I write about what I want to write about, it will reflect my passion and my thinking better than if I were to mold my writing to interest a broader audience.

At this point, I had planned to review my best and favorite columns. However, a renegade moderator polled the Vintage community in the hopes of persuading me to do something else with my one hundredth article. The top vote getter was a mailbag column all about me. I obliged.

Anusien (Kevin Binswanger) asks:
As an aspiring writer, I’m wondering how you actually go about writing your articles. How long it takes you, how much you write in one sitting, where the ideas come from, and how much editing you do?

I ask because personally I end up in a rut where an article gets shelved for a week or more and I find it difficult to come back to it.

At any given time I have 2-3 articles ideas in mind. Often times, circumstances change and the articles become less relevant. Or my interest in a particular topic wanes. I’ve found that when I’m struck with the urge to write about a particular topic, it is important to get it on paper. If you wait around too long, the article will seem less relevant and less interesting.

Kevin Cron made on observation about his approach to writing articles that gave me some insight into how I write. He commented that it was so hard for him to write articles because he has to sit in front of his word processor and think about what he wants to say. In contrast, he noted that I already have the article in mind, I just have to put it on paper.

He’s right: I start with a basic outline or a series of argumentative connections already formed in my head. Sometimes, I formulate opening paragraphs in my mind a day before I even sit down to write an article. Where the outline is already in mind, all I have to do is transfer the article to paper and put the meat on the bones. For example, in my Meandeck Gifts matchup analysis article where I discussed its matchup against Stax and Control Slaver, I knew that I would spend one half of the article on Slaver and the other half against Stax. That outline was pretty clear in my mind, all I had to do was to flesh it out by talking about my testing results and sideboarding plans. Perhaps a better example of this approach is this. I knew the topic was going to be Doomsday Scenarios. All I had to do was come up with the various board states — my outline — and then flesh it out by analyzing what I’d actually do if those situations arose. For articles like that, all I have to do is transfer what is already in mind to paper and send it to the editor.

Other articles, such as my rebuttal to Mark Gottlieb, I spend hours and hours not just writing it, but editing it and refining it and revising it.

Some articles take closer to 7-9 hours to write (see my Ichorid matchup analysis articles, my metagame breakdown article, and some of my primers) and some closer to 2-3 hours (see my article last week). But on average, I spend about five hours per article (see my article on Skill in Vintage, or my tournament reports).

In my early articles (practically all of my articles from 2003) I spent a much greater amount of time editing and tightening my articles to make them interesting and a better read. The simple truth is that I don’t have the time to go through each article anymore and tighten for presentation. When I was in college and law school, I could afford to spend a couple of extra hours revising. The problem is that I just can’t justify spending a couple of additional hours on editing when my time is more valuable than the money I make for writing. I don’t write for StarCityGames for the money, because I don’t make enough to make it worth it compared to what I make at my job as an attorney. But without Premium, I wouldn’t be able to afford to spend my time writing at all. Toward the end of 2004, I stopped writing altogether. But when Premium was instituted, I was able to write a lot more.

Since I work full time, here is my basic schedule (although I’ve deviated a bit from it in the last few articles): I go home from work on Monday night, sit in front of my laptop and write the article. I get home at about 6pm and I write until 11pm or so. I break for dinner and then touch up and send it in. Sometimes, when the article is too long, I’ll let it spill over into my Tuesday night. Take my 38 page Ichorid v. Control Slaver article — that’s precisely what happened. I got home at about 6pm and started writing and kept writing until about 1am. I spent 3 hours or so more on Tuesday night and then submitted it. The key is to set aside a block of time you can devote to writing and then submit it.

That’s why I am always so impressed by what Nick Eisel does. I bet he is one of the few writers who spend as much time as I do on my articles, simply because we choose formats, approaches, and subjects that aren’t amenable to simply blathering on about something: we use real analysis, describe game states, deck order, and draft orders, etc.

The ideas come from what I’ve been working on. That is the best subject to write about because it is something you’ll be able to expound on at length. Try to write as much as you possibly can in a single session. When and if you have to come back to it, you’ll notice little bits you can add to it.

13nova asks:
How do you feel about the current team standards in Vintage? It appears to me that if you’re not on a serious team, that you’re considered a nobody…

If you founded a team, but SOMEONE else kicks you off, what would YOU do if you don’t have the support of others?

Taking your second statement, I think you have got it backwards. People who make a name for themselves form a team simply because they are testing — so it makes sense to call your playtest group a team. However, the proliferation of teams in Vintage has given the appearance that if you are not on a good team, you’re a nobody. I am extremely pleased with the current team mentality in Vintage.

Competition is the best driver in markets and in Magic. It provides a real incentive to innovate and design. And there is truth to the viewpoint that two minds are better than one. A team is able to provide a sounding board for various ideas one may have. It is also a repository of ideas so that one person’s idea may germinate in the mind of another teammate weeks or even months later.

I created Team Meandeck, in secrecy, because of my displeasure with Team Paragon. Team Paragon was lazy and apathetic. I wanted a team whose sole focus was testing, tuning, and winning. I didn’t want my team to be a group of “pals.” I wanted a serious group of players whose motivation was not friendship or camaraderie, but victory. I’m not sure how successful I was in that endeavor, but I like my team quite a bit. From time to time there is drama, and twice our team almost split apart. At those times, I always felt that I could leave and create another team with little difficulty. I can’t imagine it will ever come to that.

On a more serious note, what is your favorite casual format, and why? And what is the casual format that you’ve been introduced to most recently and liked, and why?

Type Four. I helped develop the format in its infancy with Paul Mastriano, the creator of the format, and I co-wrote the primer on it (See Limited Infinity at MagictheGathering.com). I also think it is a tremendous amount of fun and extremely skill intensive. What other format is Vedalken Orrery one of the best cards? However, I really like Mental Magic (perhaps the most skill intensive format in Magic?). But I rarely get a chance to play either. The casual format I’ve most recently been introduced to is Mana Storm. To read about Mana Storm, go to TheManaDrain.com and read the casual forums. I had the pleasure of playing in the first Mana Storm game and I was shocked how balanced it was despite my attempt to break it. The format is off to a great start and may become one of the most interesting casual formats.

What are the top dozen or so good things you have to say about me and all that I do?

Where do I start?

Matt drives a Porsche.
He donated his extra kidney to a total stranger and has promised his remains to medical science.
Matt is the star member of team reflection.
He always picks up hitchhikers
He runs the card creation forum, the envy of R&D.
Matt arrives five minutes early for every occasion.
Matt is a hero in Nigeria.
He’s an Olympic fencer and a distinguished gentleman.

As a player who has accumulated some power and the “Second Tier Power” (Drains, Bazaars, etc), I have started building competitive Vintage decks. The problem with this is that my gaming group (whom I have played with for three or so years) is becoming frustrated with my decks. They complain that they “aren’t fun”, and they always try and kill me first in multiplayer games.

I don’t want to stop playing with them, but I find “casual decks” boring, and can’t stand Standard anymore. It just seems so slow and boring for me. I keep together a spellshapers casual deck, but I hate playing it, and only bring it out when they start to bitch.

What should I do?

Give them one of your decks and encourage them to play them against you. Give them the stronger deck so that they’ll win more. You’ll learn more that way. Don’t play multiplayer. Convince them that dueling can be fun.

Introduce them to Type Four. They’ll love it. Introduce them to Mana Storm. They’ll love it.

You’ll get the flavor of Vintage, but in a more casual format.

I am more of a casual player than competitive, and nearly always play in games consisting of at least three other players, they all play aggro decks such as goblins, burn, affinity beats etc. However, I just can’t build aggro decks, I nearly always play control/combo control, and occasionally something weird like nightmares. The problem is my non-control decks suck big time, and my playgroup have a thing against blue (all my fault… Cool)

What would you do in my situation? I don’t want to leave my playgroup, but I just don’t feel like I’m having so much fun any more….

My advice is the same. What you need to do is ask your friends to pool some crap rares and put together 150 card Type Four Stack. Draft it among your friends and play it. If they don’t want to do that, propose that you guys play some other formats, like Mental Magic or Mana Storm. Even Legacy can be a lot of fun.

The only limit is your imagination.

Mike Bomholt asked:
Who is your favorite player to play against at tournaments, and why?

Joe Bushman gives me the best games of Magic ever. Playing him and Kevin Cron is always amazing. However, they are teammates. I really enjoy playing against Rich Shay, because he plays tight, and when I obliterate him I know I played well. The other player I enjoy playing against is Eric Becker, because he also is a tight player… but I’ve never beaten him. He’s my challenge.

What’s the best play you have ever seen in a tournament?

Kevin Cron at SCG Syracuse back in Feb of 2005 finals.

This was one of the best games of Magic I’ve ever seen. Kevin had Yawgmoth’s Will in his opening hand and waited, and waited, and waited. Kevin was playing Stax.

He let himself be Nevinyrral’s Disked three times! He let his opponent destroy his entire board and whittle Kevin’s lands down to almost nothing. He waited and waited… and then, wham! Yawgmoth’s Will, replay Balance, replay his entire graveyard. Read the coverage, it’s great.

Who put the bop in the bop shoo wop shoo wop?
Kevin Cron.

Doug Linn asks:

Steve: how do you think you would look with a beard?

I grew a goatee to cover the rash on my face that emerged while I was studying for the bar.

Here is how I described it at the time…

Toward the end of November I noticed that every time I shaved a number of bumps would emerge on one area of my face. In late December it got so bad I started putting an ointment my mother gave me. Only every time I would shave it would get worse, or as bad as it was before I put anything on it.

I have no idea why it won’t go away or why its even there, but I gave up shaving. Instead, I have grown a little beard around it. The technical name for the beard I’m sporting is a “Doorknocker” according to this site.

Well, I was a bit nervous because I thought Tiana would despise it.

Here is the problem: although it looks okay, half of the hair on my face is either completely white (it looks almost translucent) or very light brown. So it makes my hair look thinner than it otherwise would – at least it makes it look sandy. My beard is quite light colored. In addition, I don’t really grow hair everywhere that I should on my face. I can’t grow a mustache full, for example. Anyway, before I picked up Tiana on Friday night, I took a shower at the gym and shaved around the beard and tidied it up.

When I got to the bus station she pronounced her love for my beard. She really liked it. I could not have been more surprised. She says it makes me look older…. I guess I’ll be keeping this beard as long as this rash remains.

Thank god that rash is gone.

What’s your favorite non-Will card, and why?

Putting aside cards I like because of their strength (for example, Black Lotus is my favorite card), my two favorite cards are:

Moat — because it has tremendous sentimental attachment and I hate creatures. It was so savage back in the day by just completely negating beatdown strategies.

Bazaar of Baghdad – two for you, three for me. Fair? Sounds like the deal you’d get in such a Bazaar. What a sweet card.

What’s your favorite casual card?

Holistic Wisdom is probably near the top.

However, if we are talking about Type Four or the like, obviously Chaos Orb, Obliterate, and Vedalken Orrery are near the top.

What’s your favorite card art?

Ooh, what a great question! One time in 2003, I got so bored during Christmas vacation that I toyed with the idea of building a deck based upon great art. I went through my collection and pulled out cards I felt had great art.

I remember that Night and Day was near the top of that list. I love the art on that card. I also love the art on Winter’s Chill. It is so evocative. I can feel the chill.

As far as sets go, the Dark has fantastic art Amnesia to Wormwood Treefolk.

Recommend some books.

I read mostly nonfiction.

I have a real affinity to the writing style of Hunter S. Thompson. I think his books “Generation of the Swine,” “Kingdom of Fear,” and “Hell’s Angels” are great.

If you like more serious work, I recommend Roberto Unger’s “Democracy Realized.” Roberto Unger is a Harvard Law Professor and probably one of the great social theorists of our time. You can read the text of all of his work free at Prof. Unger’s Harvard Webite. Or you can read the Verso print. I highly recommend the book. I also recommend Harvard/Oxford economist Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom.

Jacob Orlove asked:
What are you going to do now that you’ve passed the bar?

I’m going to work where I am for at least a little while longer. I really love my job at the moment. I work for Ohio State University at one of their Institutes. It’s a wonderful place with great people and fascinating work.

Dante asks:
It seems like in the past (2004, early-mid 2005), Paragons/Meandeck identified the best 1-2 decks for the metagame, and then your whole team played that deck (e.g. Oath at that Rochester). But recently (late 2005-present), it seems everyone seems to play what suits their style best (i.e. Kevin and Roland play Stax, you play the newest creation or Grim Long, Paul plays Grim Long, Lian plays some sort of Fish or Suicide-type deck, etc).

Whereas before, it seemed like there was more of a “this is the best deck [or two] at the moment, so we should play that,” instead of now, which seems to have less coherence, so the strategy seems to be “play the deck you know inside and out, as that’s more important than new ‘tech’.”

Maybe some comments on the general metagame coherence and playing the “tech” versus playing your baby (assuming it’s been appropriately updated).

This is a great question. The Vintage metagame is at an unusual point. Although the metagame is somewhat coherent, the topdecks are brutally fast with very few soft spots. In 2004, the top three decks were Stax, Fish, and Keeper. Mono Blue, properly build, was the perfect metagame solution. Then Oath became the solution to that metagame, and so on. The problem is that the more the metagame developed, certain decks kept near the top. This was because great players would take a deck and just tune and test and tweak — like Rich Shay with Control Slaver. Thus, although I believed and still do, that Control Slaver could be beaten, you couldn’t sweep a metagame unless you played an objectively weaker deck and banked on surprise factor.

The surprise factor that you gain by developing a new deck and playing it is still nice (see my performance with Ichorid), but it is just easier to Top 8 with a deck you are an expert with. I almost played a new deck at Rochester, but I played Grim Long and, once again, made Top 8. I’m three-for-four in StarCityGames events for making Top 8 with Grim Long.

It’s also a matter of cost versus reward. Building and tuning a new deck is a hard endeavor and still requires expert play. It is simply easier to take decks we know already and tweak them. Roland Chang and Rich Shay can take their deck and play it, tweaking it a few cards from tournament to tournament and it works. It’s easier to do that than to wholesale come up with a new deck. In fact, making new decks is hard because you frequently don’t get the correct build until after a tournament exposure. Moreover, it’s almost impossible to win a tournament with new decks, even if you can consistently Top 8 by playing new decks.

But the real question is: why play new decks when you can just Top 8 anyway? That’s the dilemma I face with Grim Long. There is only so much time in our lives to come up with new decks. I am convinced that there are great concepts that aren’t discovered or being tapped into, but there isn’t a tremendous incentive to uncover them at the moment. What Rich Shay and Roland Change and Vroman, etc have discovered is a formula that works. It’s this:

Find a deck that you can make Top 8 with. Play that deck until you stop making Top 8s. Then switch. Rich Shay consistently won tournaments with Control Slaver for the last two years. In the last couple of months, he’s been getting beat. So what did he do? He switched to Dragon and is now winning prizes left and right.

I will continue to play the same deck until I lose, or it gets restricted, or unless a new set or rules changes demands that I play something better.

Vintage moves at a pretty slow pace, so developing new decks isn’t really critical to success at the moment. Despite that, new decks have a way of emerging: witness the Sullivan Solution, Intuition Tendrils, and Meandeck Ichorid.

One last point: skill is now more important than ever. There are a number of reasons for this, which I won’t go into at the moment. But it is now better to be an expert simply so you can maximize your skill component. Playing a new deck virtually assures that you do not have the expertise to play flawlessly, even if the surprise induces mistakes on the part of your opponent. I managed to make Top 8 with Ichorid, but many teammates who played it did not (although some came really close). And I was making mistakes left and right. If I had more expertise with it, I would have won my Top 8 match.

If you want to win a tournament, you almost need to be an expert with a deck. However, a good metagame surprise can still put you into the Top 8.

Freakish77 asks:
Having wrote an article sharing Repeal as new found tech in SX Tendrils and then playing Grim Long on day 2 of SCG Rochester, is it safe to assume that you are simply following your own advice of “play a deck you are comfortable with?” If it is the case, what are your thoughts on playing Tendrils as opposed to playing Grim Long? Which do you think is objectively the better deck provided a player were extremely intimate with the intricacies of both of their match-ups (i.e. they played near flawlessly with both).

Tendrils is simply not tournament viable. It compresses all of the complicated decisions of a game into a single turn. Becker claims to be able to play it, and for some reason I believe him. But I don’t feel confidant in my ability to pilot that deck within a reasonable time. If both decks were played flawlessly, I could see Meandeck Tendrils being virtually invincible. However, we are talking Deep Blue level intelligence here.

Have you had any further contact with Gottlieb/Forsythe/etc about Time Vault? Have you considered contacting Hasbro corporation about Wizards seemingly going back on their own policies?

I’m very pleased with the decision to undo power errata. However, I am deeply disappointed with the errata they chose for Time Vault.

Rich Shay summed it up best…

So, I guess Time Vault is still useless. So much for removing power level errata. Wizards failed.

The new erratum is flawed for numerous reasons. Mark Gottlieb and company should be deeply ashamed. It’s a real tragedy. What a mess. The text they chose for Time Vault did not remove the power errata at all. They tried to revert to the actual text while keeping the power errata intact. While a clever move, they subverted their own logic in the previous errata and the card is still a freaking mess. The only correct thing to do would have been to let the card be broken, and then restrict and ban it.

If Mark Gottlieb was so convinced that the “naturally intuitive” reading was that Time Vault could only untap/upkeep, then why did he choose this reading? How can Gottlieb justify his certainty regarding his previous errata with a new erratum that does not in any way resemble the previous errata? If Mark Gottlieb, the rules manager and official keeper of the oracle, was so certain that time vault should be read like mana vault, why didn’t he just keep that text, but remove the bit about Time Vault. It could have read perfectly find like this:

Time Vault
Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn’t untap during your untap step.
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may untap Time Vault. If you do, you skip your next turn.
T, Take an extra turn after this one.

Simple and precisely what Mark Gottlieb said it should look like before this most recent errata, except that I took the language about the Time Counter off it. It would match Mana Vault and reflect the actual text of the card.

In a sense, Wizards has just admitted that they lack integrity. They completely turned on Mark’s original interpretation. In part should have, because there is no reason that a Time Counter should have been on that card so long as Mark was making a concerted effort to clean up the oracle so that the cards better reflect their printed text. However, what they did was clearly a utilitarian ploy and reflects a lack of integrity.

Mark was quite clear that the original erratum they issued a few months back was done without consideration to issues of the broader happiness of the community — the only thing that mattered was the naturally intuitive reading such that the cards reflect the actual text. Mark chose and stood behind a naturally intuitive reading, with the time counter. This erratum demonstrates that their real aim was to keep Time Vault neutered. I guess Mark Gottlieb must eat his words about a naturally intuitive reading? His arguments about Mana Vault having similar text — what of them? It’s a big joke.

Wizards sort of turned on Gottlieb’s original position, but in doing so, has made their position defensible in the long-run. Future players who read the card will find that the new erratum is one plausible textual interpretation of the card. However, when you put the decision in the context of recent history and the statements for the previous errata, you quickly realize what a crock it is. It was clearly a practical move to prevent the abuse of the card. If they say otherwise, it’s just a deception or omission. I cannot overstate the level of my disappointment in Wizards on this issue.

Carlosb asks:
Are you the only remaining Paragon who has not quit competitive Magic or retired?

Rian Litchard (Kirdape) is the other last remaining Paragon. But I’m almost the last.

If you were hired by Wizards, what would you do to increase Vintage´s popularity?

That is really tough to say. I think Wizards does its job best by simply not interfering. The best Magic interactions are unintended, in my opinion. With a card pool like Vintage, there is so much potential. I think the best way that Wizards could promote Vintage would be to promote Vintage scenarios, matchups, and analysis on their website, discuss it more in passing in their general articles, and talk about the cool things that can happen in Vintage. If more writers talked about the skill that can be gained by playing Vintage, I think its popularity would increase.

Nate Pease asks:

Tell us the “inspiring story” of Team Meandeck… a breakdown of the top teams, members, their tech, and accomplishments…

This is the subject of an article someone else should write. This thread comes close.

Bram asks:
What’s the weirdest non-Magic-related thing you’ve ever done with an actual Magic card?

I’m not quite sure what you are getting at? Do you think I use Magic cards in erotic ways?

Timmy, Johnny and Spike are boring names for the player profiles. Which well-known Vintage scene player names would you attach to each of the three stereotypes?

I think the better stereotypes are the:

The Combo player — this guy has a crazed maniacal gleam in his eye and is a little unkempt. Think Paul Mastriano.
The Workshop Player — this guy is large, tall, and hairy. Think Chewbacca and Kevin Cron. The exception is Roland Chang.
The Mana Drain player — this guy is small feeble, and prissy.

What card would you most want to see print for Vintage to help break the supposed stalemate? (in other words: submit a damn card to the card creation forum already!)

I’ve already submitted lots of cards to your card creation forum! Don’t you remember them?

Hot Diggety Dawg!

Digging the Depths
On your upkeep, reveal the top 3 cards of your library, you may put them in any order and you may switch any of the cards revealed from your library with cards from your graveyard.

What, in your humble opinion, is the point of anything?

The point of anything is to create meaning for ourselves. That then becomes the point.

If Wizards were to banhammer Yawgmoth’s Will, would Vintage turn into Legacy?

Hardly. It would very much remain Vintage, and quite busted. Just a lot more diverse.

BI66ER asks:
I know some of the older Magic players (age 20+) play competitive poker, especially with the recent “poker boom.” Do you have an interest in poker, even if Magic still outranks it?

No interest in poker at all. I like Moxen quite a bit more than hearts and clubs.

Also, with passing the Bar Exam somewhat recently, do you foresee anything in the future overcoming Magic as your top (??) priority in life? Such as career and/or family like some of the “retired” TMDers have done? Zherbus springs to mind here.

I almost quit Magic last fall, after I got engaged. That fell through and here I am now, playing basically one major tournament every two months. That seems like a good pace for an old fart.

What is your favorite fictional book?

American: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Ever? Les Miserables — yes, I’m a sap for Victor Hugo romanticism.

20th Century: Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon.

Any good resources for writing and thinking as clearly as you do? I’ve been reading “A rulebook for arguments” by Anthony Weston, but you might have come across other resources during your study as a lawyer.

Go and buy a book on logic. Preferably this one, or a variant of it.

Yare asks:
If you change the B/R list to exactly what you want, what would be on it? (You can mention errata-ing Time Vault if you’d like).

I would undo the Time Vault errata such that it could untap with Twiddle. I would unrestrict Dream Halls, Entomb, Mind Twist, Personal Tutor, Time Spiral, and Voltaic Key.

Dream Hall cannot be cast on turn 1 without Academy, Lotus, Time Walk, Petal, or Sapphire, basically. Dream Halls would be mostly a turn 3 combo deck. As if we don’t have a million of those. Every deck in Vintage is a turn 3 combo deck.

Who cares if Dragon can run four Entomb? I don’t. Not only is that an inferior way to run the deck, but with Leylines and Tormod’s Crypts all over the place, I could care less.

Mind Twist is weak. It’s much worse than Duress, and it is almost unplayed in Vintage at the moment.

Personal Tutor should never have been restricted.

Time Spiral. Pretty terrible. We are way passed the days where Tolarian Academy was relevant. This card is pretty slow, but could be nice for a High Tide deck. Why not free her?

Voltaic Key should have been unrestricted with Mind Over Matter. Keying a Metalworker will almost double the amount of mana you get. Sure, but what’s really the difference between 10 and 17 mana? What can you do with 17 that you can’t do with 10?

Almost all the other cards actually deserve a spot on the list, unless you ban Yawgmoth’s Will as I’ve suggested in the past. In which case, you need to revise the whole list.

What do you DISLIKE about Vintage Magic the most?

The contrariness of the community and the unwillingness to engage in a serious and sustained debate on some issues. Too often it is just surface debate where emotions are more heated than the logic.

What do you LIKE about Vintage Magic the most?

The cards.

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And to prove it, I’ll now conclude with an ode to Black Lotus.

Ode to Black Lotus

Thou beauteous thing of artifice!
Thou provider of the plenty and succor!

Tiny thing, gravid with mana thrice!
Even your petal is resplendent in your nectar!

Not all mistakes yield regrets.
Not all children disappoint.

A flower on a mountain?
A field?
A stream?
Or floating in the sky?
It matters not.

You give us what we crave, not what we need.
You satisfy our dirty lust and base (mind’s) desire

Priceless, you are a symbol of power misunderstood
For every scrub who wonders; why are you so good,
I praise the creator, PHD, for this wondrous flower.

I’ve dealt with demons,
Tutored by them for you.
I’ve given blood to a vampire.
Prayed to my ancestors.

Although a pale imitation of your beauty,
Scars (not Simba’s)
Diamond eye reflects
Your tremendous power.

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
”Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian