The Combat Phase – Being Jamie Wakefield

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Monday, April 26th – King of the Fatties Jamie Wakefield makes a triumphant return to Magic, happily embracing a Standard environment that appears tailor-made for his particular brand of beating down. In the first of a new column, he explains the reasons behind his return, and looks at the new Green cards with desire. Welcome back Jamie!

What must it be like to be Jamie Wakefield? To be so clueless about the current environment that he doesn’t even know what “Jund” is? To have no idea what Standard looks like? To pore through his collection of thousands of Magic Online cards and have no idea which of them are legal in Standard? What must it be like to have once known the timing rules, every card’s text, the metagame and how to ignore it, yet now be totally clueless about… everything.

Jamie is Searching for Jamie Wakefield.

I blame Friggin’ Rizzo.

I have been so focused on trying to make it as a writer and learning Spanish that I have not had time for Magic. Plus, when I last stopped playing, the game was catering to a different type of player than I. I was losing more than winning, and while that’s normal for me as I experiment with different horrible (but original) decks, I wasn’t even having fun playing. You can’t experiment when you’re killed on the second turn. So I took a break and worked on other things.

Every now and then, someone would update me with a link that mentioned my name or my most famous deck, and I would wax nostalgic. There just wasn’t time for Magic. But the urge was always there. Magic players never really quit the game; they just take leaves of absence. They come back. They always come back.

I’ve been working on Secret Force: Quest for the Pro Tour II, which is the collected stories of how I came about making the deck, tuning it endlessly, finally qualifying with it, and then actually playing it at Pro Tour: Chicago.

Those were some good times. Working on that book for days on end brought back that wistful longing for card-flopping. Then I was sent a link to WOTC’s Deck of the Day page… and it was Secret Force. From there, I was teased with talk of great and terrible fatties, guys that WOTC promised would actually be playable, called The Eldrazi. I had to see this and began investigating. I am very intrigued with the set, and really, what sort of travesty would it be if WOTC prints the fattest creatures ever and the King of the Fatties isn’t there to play them? I then waxed nostalgic some more by reading some saved articles written by other authors about me or my decks. Feelin’ the love. A few days later, I had a nice talk with my soon to be bride, The Beautiful Wendy, and she agreed with my new plan. Then I downloaded Magic Online, and started to watch.

I can no longer resist her siren call.

The plan is now to play Magic Online until June when we return to the States. (Because I can’t go play at the local shop and read Spanish well enough to know what the cards do. I have to learn them all in English first.) Then play physical Magic in Vermont if I can find a place to play. At the end of August, return to Spain, play at a beautiful local shop a half kilometer away, working on my Spanish and my Magic skills at the same time. Write about it, driving more people to my website and hopefully generating some book sales.

What drives me is competition. So today I am looking at what PTQ’s are coming up, and where the next Pro Tour is going to be.

Amsterdam: September 3-5. The format is Extended and Booster Draft. The qualifier season begins April 17 and the format is Standard.

Uhh… that’s about as good as it gets…

Standard means I need to buy a limited amount of cards. Having been out of the game since 2007 means I would have three years of sets to catch up on if this was an Extended qualifier. Qualifying season begins right now. We’ll be back in the states in June for three months, perfect time to hook up with anyone still playing and hit some Montreal, Boston, and even NY qualifiers. We’ll be returning to Madrid just in time for me to catch a short flight to Amsterdam and win my first Pro Tour.

Yeah, baby!

(Actually, my goal this time around is not to just get on the Pro Tour, but to actually win one. As preposterous as that sounds, you have to push yourself to have new goals, not the same ones. Not that I think I will actually win Amsterdam, but hey… someday.)

This morning I am toying with the Magic Online interface and looking over cards. Amazingly, the game now knows that a seventh edition Llanowar Elf is legal in Standard. In the bad old days, the game would have gone by set name, not card name. This makes it much easier to see what I should hold onto and what I can trade away. I watch some games and I am stunned.

Looking over decklists from the SCG’s Open Orlando Top 16 validates the things I saw online.

A perfect environment for me.

A style of Magic play that I have been missing for a long time.

I don’t see a lot of counterspells, a lot of bounce, a lot of combo, or a lot of “steal your guy.” What I do see is tons and tons of vampires and dragons and elves and angels and legendary creatures and just totally cool little kid stuff! I see games that enter that long forgotten realm known as “the combat phase,” which was almost extinct when I was last playing. At many times in my Magic career, the game evolved right past me. Right now, it looks like the game is evolving into me. Having only watched twenty or thirty games so far and looked at deck lists online, I have to admit this is only an educated guess. It sure appears that way, though. And I am very excited. I am so excited I go into Wendy office and babble at her like a schoolgirl for a half an hour about how happy I am. I explain aggro, control, weenies, combo and counterspells. I explain my style of play and what I have seen online, and how everything has changed to be back like it was when I first started playing Magic. I am ecstatic.

My friend Pete said he didn’t think now would be a good time for me to get back into Magic because 60% of the decks are Jund. Now that I know what Jund is, I am confused by his statement. Jund is elves and Bolts and discard and dragons and token generators and fun effects! What is not to love? Not only does that deck look like a blast to play, it looks like something my style of deck usually crushes. Everyone has their specialty, and anyone who knows me knows my style is mid-range. Mid-range is crap against control and combo. It smashes decks like Jund and Jank and Goblins and weenie rush decks.

Losing games the easy way
I didn’t see one person do some stupid fast mana combo then cast four Bogardan Hellkites on turn 2. That was the environment I saw in 2007. I tried to counter that with One Dozen Eyes and “Hondens of Losing Games” and other mid-range control, which didn’t really work out that well.

In my viewing today, I don’t remember any games that were finished without some back and forth, and even the Blue White Control decks played Angels and White Knights and armored lions. ARMORED LIONS! Every game I watched was Red Deck Wins, or WW, or G/W aggro and mid-range decks battling it out. Sometimes dragons terrorized the skies, while other times 10/10 hydras with Protection from Everything roamed the battlefield.

I couldn’t ask for a better environment! I couldn’t have enjoyed the decks I saw today more even if I had designed them myself!

I was going to buy some packs and join a league to get my feet wet, but I’ve changed my mind about that now [Just as well… – Craig, still missing League play]. I’m going to figure out how to sell off some cards, put some money into the account, and dive right into Standard.

And now, I will make a fool out of myself and do a review of the Green cards I can’t wait to get my hands on from Rise of the Eldrazi. I say “make a fool out of myself” because not only am I usually wrong about a card until I’ve actually played it, or seen it in action, but I can only make educated guesses on the current environment and how these cards will affect it.

Ancient Stirrings is an interesting card, and certainly excellent for those land light decks. It’s not really my style of card, but I find it amazing. Early in the game you can immediately get a land if you need one, and late in the game you trade one card for the best card in the top five of your library.

Aura Gnarlid reminds me of Endless Wurm. It has the potential to be amazing, especially with all the fascinating, amazing, cool, wonderful totem auras in this set. Most of the auras are playable, and then add that on top of +1 +1 and the ability to ignore lesser powered blockers, like a cadre of White or Black Knights who would first strike him dead if they could block? This will be a monster in Sealed if you get a couple of auras, but I’m not sure he’ll make the cut in Constructed.

Awakening Zone is again a conundrum to me. As much as I love “At the beginning of your upkeep put a token into play,” I’m not sure this is going to make the cut at three mana and doing nothing else. Adding a token every turn that is a potential one mana is nice but slow to make a lot of mana to cast some huge monster. On the other hand, you’ll always have something to throw an aura on if you play an aura-heavy deck.

Bear Umbra is the first of the Umbras, and I think every single one of them is amazing. No matter what the other ability is, the fact that this saves your creature from being destroyed is amazing. All of the Umbras are going to be a pain in the ass for some decks. The ability to untap all your lands when attacking is excellent in a ton of different ways.

Gelatinous Genesis is, well, YAY! While really underpowered in the early game, I know that we’re going to be playing with a ton of mana this set. Even before this set was released, I watched the current environment getting up to nine and even ten mana before the game ends. Nine mana gets you four 4/4 creatures, and that’s not bad.

Gigantomancer might see play in Sealed. For 8 mana you can have a creature that ends the game, not a 1/1.

Gravity Well is a pretty good sideboard card.

Irresistible Prey is a card I thought I liked, until I read it closer. Since your opponent gets to choose who he blocks with, he might lose a colorless token and fulfill the terms of the card. If the card was worded “Target creature must block this turn,” it would be great.

Joraga Treespeaker is the first of the level up cards that I like, but I’m not enamored of her. Spend two mana and you can have an elf that taps for two mana and later in the game may make your mana production insane, which I have always been in love with since I discovered Gaea’s Cradle. As a cheap one-drop that has the potential to be amazing, I’ll be experimenting with her.

Khalni Hydra is my favorite card of the set. This is the card that I have always wanted for Green. Well, one of them. Really fat that is really only playable in Mono Green.

Living Destiny is a card I was hoping to see while I watched Standard games today. With the amount of WW and Jund I kept thinking “Man, I hope Green has some good way to gain life.” Considering I’ll be playing with fat, I can see me gaining a lot of life off of this. And with decks like Jund and WW and Red Deck Wins, I’m going to need to be able to stabilize, gain some life and then cast some fat. The fact this is an instant is wonderful. There’s nothing like your opponent saying done, tapping four mana and watch his heart sink as you put yourself out of “Ball Lightning, Bolt you, Bolt you” range.

Might of the Masses is one of those cards I would have dismissed in 2007 and curiously wonder about in 2010’s current environment. I see a lot of creatures on the board, and that’s only going to increase with all the Eldrazi spawn generators I’m seeing. The CC is what makes it really nice. Possible Might of Oaks for one mana? Some good.

Momentous Fall is amazing. Even on a measly 3/3 you’re going to get a huge benefit out of this card. If you can cast it as your opponent tries to Terminate your creature it’s going to be massive card advantage.

Nest Invader makes me wonder something — How many Pyroclasm effects are there in Standard right now? Because that will greatly affect the success of these Eldrazi spawn decks.

Pelakka Wurm is another card I love. I didn’t see any life gain when I was watching Standard this morning, and while I absolutely hate pathetic, over-costed life gain, I absolutely love good, efficient life gain. This card is probably better than Khalni Hydra, now that I think about it.

Vengevine has already been discussed to death by smarter people than me.

The Eldrazi themselves are just insane. Most of them should say “Summon Cthulhu.” Many of them are game ending if not immediately eliminated. What amazes me is I saw creatures of similar cost played today.

Looking at Green cards that are Standard legal on the SCG database, I had some other observations.

I’m surprised by the lack of creatures that kill artifacts or enchantments in Standard. I’m going to miss my sex monkeys and Elvish Lyrist. Flexible removal is an important tenant to my school of Magic. As usual I would like to focus on Mono Green, but I don’t think that is going to be possible without Creeping Mold or creatures that can serve a dual purpose of a body plus some form of elimination. It looks like I’ll be focusing on Black/Green for Maelstrom Pulse which solves a number of problems. Wait, now I see they only cost a paltry twenty-two dollars on the open market… Hey look, Naturalize! Just kidding, I hate Naturalize. I’m like Alton Brown — I have no single use items in my kitchen. Maybe I can make do with Acidic Slime, Mold Shambler, and Terastodon. Man, I loves me some Terastodon. (See, I told you I make a fool out of myself evaluating cards before playing them. I thought when I played Terastadon I got the 3/3 tokens for destroying three of my opponent’s permanents! Boy, was I surprised when I played one for the first time.) I am also happy with all the different token generators in Green right now. I’ll be playing with them and seeing what I can make happen there.

Well, it’s been two days since I wrote this, and I bought some cheap cards and made up a deck and did some casual play-testing. Everything I wrote about earlier was right. There is a combat phase. I don’t mind losing to the decks that beat me, because they don’t annoy the crap out of me like they did in 2007. I wish there was a better selection of Mono Green creatures that allow me to destroy artifacts and enchantments. But I am in love with Acidic Slime. Creeping Mold plus a 2/2 body with deathtouch is smoking hot. Sadly, Mold Shambler is pretty bad, and Terastodon is still in the experimental phase. I have this idea that with some decks I can destroy all their land with Mold Shambler and Terastodon and then who cares if they have three 3/3’s and I have nine mana? I have also cast him and destroyed three of my own lands and received a 9/9 and three 3/3’s. So, we’ll see.

The main thing is — I am really, really happy, and really, really hooked. The last two days I have been playing or thinking about Magic every free moment. I even build decks and think about card usage in the middle of watching TV.

I’m back, baby!

Let the adventures begin… Again.