The Combat Phase – I Am Not A Smart Man

Friday, December 10th – I pick cards no one else is using and try to build a deck that’s interesting and surprising. Not being a smart guy, the only way I can do this is the “Rocky” method. I just pound meat until I get a title shot.

Every day I get up and go to StarCityGames.com and look for a new article from Wakefield. Then I remember, oops, haven’t submitted anything this week! D’oh!

Yes, I’m horrible, but honestly, I like reading my own writing, not because I think it’s the best, but it helps solidify in my mind events that have happened. It’s like I have a second memory, put down on paper. I think they call that a diary.

I’m having a rough week, and I don’t know why. I don’t feel like writing at all, and I feel miserable because of it. When I was just a wee lad, I used to love the Xanth books by Piers Anthony. His author’s notes at the end were equal in value to the story he just told, sometimes ten or even fifteen pages long. In them he talked about illness, his pay rate, how long it took him to publish his first short story (three years) and how, if you want to be a writer – you write. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. You sit your a** down in a chair, and you just type. Toss whatever you don’t like, but as the Nike slogan says “Just do it.”

In college a professor once said, “I want forty pages next week.”

I did thirty-two. My next nearest competitor in class did twelve.

This month, I don’t want to write.

This kills me.

Writers. Write.

I’ve long held to that belief, and when I’m in a funk, it just makes it even harder.

As regular readers know, Magic hasn’t been going that great. My performance in tournaments has been less than stellar, feedback isn’t great on my last article about said tournaments, and I decided to give up on Legacy. I only started playing it because I was told it was the most popular format in Spain anyway, but I’ve always preferred Standard. I like the combat phase much more than the combo phase.

Today I spent a couple hours focusing on Standard, and I can’t win with anything even in this format.
Last week, Overwhelming

did great for me. Today, I can’t buy a win with it. I can’t buy a win with Overwhelming, nor Eldrazi Green, nor Metalcraft Green; nothing I have is working.

I look online at some of the green decks that have been doing well, and I don’t get it. How do they block 5/5 first strikers? What happens when faced with a Pyroclasm? What do they do when faced with Arc Trail, which wrecks your first two or three turns depending on if you drew a Llanowar or not?

I end the night thinking – I need to focus more on playing unfair cards.

What do I have that doesn’t play fair?

And not only that, how do I not lose to red or to U/W Control? I remember my idea when I saw All Is Dust was to run with as many artifacts as possible anyway. F*** the Eldrazi; let’s roll with some Wurmcoil Engines and Steel Hellkites and see how that works out.

I add in eight walls so I can beat Red, and All Is Dust is a beating against U/W Control. Summoning Trap in the main works well against U/W and Red, as does Vines of Vastwood.


I hate that.

After a few test games, I notice that walls don’t actually stop red. What they do is block for a turn and then not produce any mana to cast the huge number of fatties I have in the deck. They get swapped out for Cultivate and Explore. I end the night with this.

Yeah, it’s a crazy mix of stuff, but it works pretty well. It still has some trouble with Red, of course, but sometimes the Platinum Emperion or Wurmcoil Engine gets picked up with a speedy Summoning Trap and change the game. People will probably question my choice of Precursor Golem, but I like getting three 3/3s for five mana. Also, an important thing to note is the fact that a Vines of Vastwood cast on Precursor Golem affects them all.

Turn five – “Swing for 21?”

The Vines are also excellent for anyone thinking of using Act of Treason. Contagion Engine and Contagion Clasp should be good against all the weenies red plays as well as the R/W Kor Weenie decks that seem to be doing well. Except they aren’t. One game, they’ll play nothing but Plated Geopedes and Steppe Lynx; you side in the Contagion Clasps, and they play nothing but Goblin Guides, Stoneforge Mystics, and Kor Skyfisher – which Contagion Clasp is less than optimal against. So, another solution is needed there.

I’m not a smart guy. I’ve always loved smart guys, but I am not one of them; I can only admire them from afar. I love TV Shows like
Lie to Me

where even when coming up against a criminal mastermind serial killer, Cal Lightman is always three moves ahead of what they’re planning. I love the episodes where they have some cocky brilliant criminal who seems like he’s controlling the whole show, and then in the last ten minutes they catch him, replay why Lightman did what he did, flashback to those scenes “I threw the coffee because of this… I let him beat me up because of this… I let him catch on that I was closing in on him because of this… I even let him kidnap me, beat me, strip me naked, and leave me in the desert so that you could…”

“It was all a plan. You know when I yelled at you and told you to get out of the room? Sorry about that, love, but I needed to make him think that…”

I like movies like
Searching for Bobby Fisher, Little Man Tate, Good Will Hunting

(“Do you realize how easy this is for me?”), and recently,
Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes is so smart he can’t exist in normal society. He analyzes everything and everyone, and everyone has a story that he can figure out in seconds. In
Sherlock Holmes,

he analyzes Watson for his new fiancé. “Notice the cane. Only, it’s not a cane. It’s a sword cane given only to distinguished officers who served in Africa.”

To me, it will never be anything more than a cane.


Lex is in a private meeting with a guy from the zoning commission. He’s subtly suggesting a bribe. Lex refuses. The next time they meet, Lex has erased his identity. He no longer has a Social Security number, a bank account; even his cell phone service has been terminated.

You know what I would do as a smasher? My solution would be to take him to the ground, punch him in the face and say “You want a bribe? Here’s your bribe! You want more? I got more if you need more of a bribe!”

I would probably lose this encounter.

Because I’m not a smart guy.

I pick cards no one else is using and try to build a deck that’s interesting and surprising. Not being a smart guy, the only way I can do this is the “Rocky” method. I just pound meat until I get a title shot.

You know who’s a smart guy?

I wrote to Flores, Zvi, and Chapin recently and wanted to compare notes on the most successful route to making money writing books. All responded with some good info, but Chapin had so much to offer that he offered to talk on the phone if I wanted. I’ve never met Chapin. I met Zvi and Cathy Nicoloff at PT NJ; I’ve met Flores a couple times and talked on the phone with him a few times, always with good results.

Chapin and I have never met or spoken.

Our schedules finally synced, and I was able to get a hold of him. We talked for about forty-five minutes, and I was blown away. I just wanted to thank him in this column for his advice, candor, and knowledge about business economics and the publishing world that he shared with me. A few things were truly enlightening. I got off the phone and said to my wife “That Patrick Chapin… that is a smart man.”

Flores wrote to me the next day offering to help me understand why I keep losing. That deck I posted above called Unfair? That’s crap, and I finally get why thanks to Flores. He explained to me better than anyone else what I’ve been missing. I haven’t revised it yet, but he got through to me in a way no one else has been able to express so succinctly.

Shall we move on?

I loves me some PTQs.

I’ve been practicing Sealed and Draft online in hopes of securing a berth to Paris. Metropolis is putting on a PTQ this weekend near our apartment. Wendy calls to get me preregistered. Phonetically this is what is said: “Nombre es High-may, appellido es wakka feld.”

(First name is Jamie, last name is Wakefield.)

Appellido es wakka feld.

I find that amusing. Wakka feld. Because, I am pretty wacky.

For reasons, including Magic, that I don’t want to go into here, the week has been incredibly stressful and ends in tears, which is never good. On Saturday night, I ask Wendy “Will you be disappointed in me if I don’t go tomorrow?”

“Of course not.”

I wake up at 8:05 am and realize I’m done with sleep. I make some coffee, check out the latest UFC results from the night before, and ponder. I’m not a great player. I’m not going to win today. I could stay here and go back to bed and read some more
Naked Heat

(yes, we love Castle). Wendy and I could go out to lunch, walk the little dog, take a nap. It would be nice.

Or I could show how bad I am again, show up to a place where the cards and instructions will be in Spanish, draw bad cards for my pool, go 1-3 drop and have people tell me, again, how awful I am in the forums.


At nine am, I think, “If I don’t go, I’m not Jamie Wakefield.” You know, the old “WWJD?” saying. Jamie would go to the tournament.

Anyway, I shower, leave later than I would’ve thought, and hop in a cab. I could run there in ten minutes, but who wants to arrive covered in sweat to a Magic tournament after just taking a shower? Well, some people obviously but not me. The cab ride is a total of four Euros, well worth the expense, and then I wander around with my iPhone trying to use Google maps to point me in the right direction. I appear to be standing on it, but where are my people? Where are the superhero shirts, the binders, the backpacks, the guys standing outside the venue getting a last smoke in before the round starts? I see no one.

I arrive just in time to get my packs and register.

The cards are blurry. Great, I’ve lost a contact. Luckily, I have my contact case and a spare pair of glasses. It sucks getting old. I register my cards and finish just in time. Instructions are given that I can’t, and don’t have to, follow. The guy sitting opposite me hands me his deck and sheet, so I hand him mine, and I double-check his cards and what’s written on the sheet. Everything is in perfect order. More instructions are given, and the guy seated to my right passes me a deck, so I pass mine to my left. This is done five times, and I’m given my final deck to play with.

While not filled with bombs, it does have some good cards. Like, say, Koth of the Hammer.

Well, the tournament’s been paid for.

Online I like to run G/B Infect or White Metalcraft or Mono-Green Infect and Fatties. None of those options are available here. While I do have Tangle Angler, which is awesome, I have, literally four green cards and six black cards. My white is sh*te, and I never play blue. Yes, I know; it’s a failing. I have a whole bunch of cards in red that I’ve never played, only played against, a lot of duplicate cards, and artifacts that go well with the red. I end up making this:

2 Perilous Myr
2 Copper Myr
3 Iron Myr
1 Myr Galvanizer
1 Precursor Golem
1 Glint Hawk Idol
1 Darksteel Sentinel
1 Golem Artisan
1 Saberclaw Golem
1 Vulshok Heartstoker
1 Scoria Elemental
1 Goblin Gaveleer
1 Blade-Tribe Berserkers

1 Bladed Pinions
1 Grafted Exoskeleton
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Turn to Slag
2 Shatter
1 Arc Trail

16 Mountains

I really like it. I know it’s not broken enough for a scrub like me to make Top 8 at the tournament today, but it has a few tricks, some nice elimination, a little bit of fat, a lot of mana acceleration, and Koth. I think it will do okay.

They run a great tournament here. Round 1 starts as soon as deckbuilding is over, and they have extra tables, so they’ve spaced seat numbers out more so everyone is more comfortable.

Game 1 is going pretty well until my opponent plays a Wurmcoil Engine, which I promptly Shatter. So he plays a Razor Hippogriff (isn’t that a funny name? Hippogriff… Hippo should never be part of a name of a creature that flies) and gets back his Wurmcoil Engine and plays it again.

Despite this, I still could’ve won. I messed up. I don’t know why I’m telling you this other than I’ve always approached my writing with brutal honesty. I’ve always written tournament reports even when I go 0-3 drop because that’s what I do.

He has almost thirty life, but he has five poison counters. I attack with an artifact that will give him three more. My opponent says “For three poison?”


I watch him write down eight, and I think to myself. “I could’ve used my Artisan to pump him twice and kill him.” But… I’ve already said for three, not five. It’s my mistake, and I must live with it. Hopefully I can kill him next turn.

Except, I don’t get a next turn because he kills me.

In the second game, it’s my opponent’s turn to make the mistake. He starts out very aggressive, reducing me to four before I stabilize. My creatures are bigger than his, and he starts to hold back, wondering what he can do to salvage the situation.

The thing is, he has forgotten that I’m at four, and he has a 3/3 flier on the board, and I have no blockers. All he has to do is attack, chump for one turn, attack again, and I’m dead. Of course, he has no idea what I’m holding, but he could’ve killed me easily if he had just attacked and remembered I was so low on life.

We’re now 1-1 due to mistakes on both our parts. I consider it a gift.

In the third and final, I start out very aggressive and swing with five creatures to reduce him to “dead next turn unless you have a bomb.” He responds with Sunblast Angel, and everything I have goes away.

 My Spanish is limited, but extending the hand is pretty universal.

I need more coffee and something to eat. What a great venue this is. I follow the signs for “exit” and find myself in a bar. Bars in Spain all serve food. I stand at the bar and order a café con leche, and he brings me my coffee and milk then asks me what I would like for my tapa, indicating a number of dishes under glass. I choose the Spanish tortilla, which is a perfect breakfast of eggs, potato, and onion baked into a circle about an inch thick. A tapa in Spain is usually served with every drink you get. It could be olives, potato chips, peanuts, sardines, tortilla, some small shrimp, a bit of potato salad, etc. He slices me off a huge triangle of tortilla, and I’m very happy. I’m starving, and this should last me for hours. It’s also a very well made version of the dish, i.e. delicious.

My second-round opponent speaks English as well as I speak Spanish. This always results with me speaking Spanish and them speaking English. I don’t know why this is, but I assume it’s because we both want the other person to feel comfortable.

We shuffle up, and I look around the tables, and I see I’m the only one playing with unsleeved cards. While my Constructed decks are all sleeved, I’m not sleeving up a Sealed or Draft deck. I love the feel of the cards. Sleeved cards are clunky, don’t feel like Magic cards, and don’t remind me of the old days when no one used sleeves. Today, I feel joy at shuffling my cards without sleeves. I love shuffling them and sifting them through my hands to organize them and slapping them down on the table.

I’ve always hated sleeves, and this feels great.

In the first game, my deck curves out perfectly with mana Myrs into Golem Artisan into Precursor Golem into Berserkers; swing for a billion.

Game 2 he mulligan’s down to five, has to keep a one-land hand, and just keeps passing the turn while I swing with more and more creatures and some guy named Koth who makes my Mountain into a beater as well. This is one of those games where you don’t feel elated you won; you just feel bad for your opponent.

He tells me in the first round he had similar luck, mulliganing three times. I ask him how many lands he’s running, and he tells me seventeen.

That’s some bad luck.

But, I feel good. I feel like, “My deck is good, and if it keeps curving out like that, I might have a shot today. I’m gonna work my way up the tables and have a good day.” Sure, I beat a guy who was mana-screwed in the second game, but I smashed in the first, and with the way the deck curved out in the second, it wouldn’t have mattered. My deck is the bomb.

Third round. Keeping hope alive.

I sit down, and a guy I’m not playing but who’s a friend with my opponent, Alfonso Barcelona, comes over and says, “You write for Star City, right?”

“Yes, I do.” We shake hands, and I ask him his name, and I think he said it was Miguel, but I’m awful with names so I could be wrong on that. He watches the match over his friend’s shoulder, and suddenly, this feels like a feature match, which I always lose.

I’m mana shy in the first, sitting for too long on two lands. I’m making it work, but I wish I could draw a few more lands. My opponent plays Elspeth, and I rock back in my seat. “Whoa.”

A turn goes by; then I draw the land I need to play Koth. Now it’s my opponent’s turn to rock back in his seat and say “Whoa.” I have three blockers to protect him. Unfortunately my opponent has a Shatter and an Arc Trail and kills all my blockers and Koth as soon as he untaps. Elspeth makes him nine tokens over the next few turns, and he just keeps swinging until I’m dead.

In the second game, he gets Sunspear Shikari, Darksteel Axe, and Accorder’s Shield. I’m not drawing anything that can stop that monster, and he has enough elimination to kill my weenie blockers. I’m playing tight but just don’t have or draw the cards I need.

The attendance is pretty low. Can a 5-2 make it in? I’ll keep playing and see what happens. Practice is better than dropping.

At this point, I’m approached by Jaime Climent (I had him write his name down on my iPhone so I wouldn’t forget / get it wrong). He has perfect English and says he reads my writing on Star City, and then we discuss Legacy for a bit. He politely points out some mistakes I’ve been making, and I counter with some of the reasons I don’t think I can win at Legacy. He politely counters my arguments with specific cards that would fix the problems that I’ve been having. His argument is persuasive, and I think maybe I’ve given up on this format too easily.

“Why is Legacy so popular in Spain?”

“I think it’s because people want their cards to hold their value or go up. They know if they buy a particular card, it’s only going to go up in price. And it’s not just Legacy; it’s also Vintage. I won a Mox last week in a Vintage tournament.”


At this point, Miguel comes up to me and asks me to sign his playmat. I oblige and meant to get back to him and get his name typed into my iPhone, but I couldn’t find him later after my conversation with Jaime.

So, I go back to talking with Jaime, and we compare decks.

His deck confuses me. Now, I’m not good at Limited. I’m 1-2; he’s 2-1 and won a Mox last week, so I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, but the deck confuses me. He’s playing three colors, and most of his cards have double green, double white, or double black in their casting cost. That would scare the crap out of me. I just don’t understand how that works. I’m scared to play two colors much less three. I just want to get enough land, not mulligan a lot, and be able to play anything I have in my hand.

Weighing in on the Survival of the Fittest debate, he seems to think Legacy is a little broken right now because of the card.

I take some voice notes on my iPhone, and another guy approaches me, sees me taking voice notes, and tells me he’ll come back in a few minutes. His name is Nicholas Schlesinger, and he also speaks perfect English. Which reminds me of a joke:

What do you call someone who speaks four languages?


What do you call someone who speaks three languages?


What do you call someone who speaks two languages?


What do you call someone who speaks one language?


Nicholas’s father is American, and his mother is from Portugal. He tells me he reads my blog, posts sometimes, and, like me, moved to Spain to be with his girlfriend (now fiancée). He backs up what Jaime said about Spain’s format preference. He would like to play more, but it’s difficult because of 1) his fiancée and 2) the cost of Legacy. He lists Force of Wills, Wastelands, etc., and I sympathize but let him know I’ve been playing so long I have a full set of those.

“Oh, I did too! I’ve been playing since I was nine, in 1994, but at a tournament, I had my backpack with four binders in it stolen.”


“I still play Legacy but with just a Mono-Red Burn deck. Yeah, I’m one of those guys.”

Like me, he is 1-2. We compare decks, and he explains it’s okay but doesn’t have enough bombs. His opponent’s Elspeth has killed him twice already. He recorded a perfect deck for me with two Alpha Tyrranax, three Molder Beasts, Tangle Angler, and Bellowing Tanglewurm and some good artifacts, but of course, that’s not the one he got to play. I admire his spirit. He started 0-2 but says he’s going to make a comeback and won his last round. I’m right there with you, Nicholas.

I excuse myself from his company, explaining I need to take some voice notes on this conversation before the round starts.

The round hasn’t even ended yet; my voice note is 4:26 seconds long. I come back into the event to find everyone seated and pairings posted. I find my seat and start to sit down. My opponent waves over a judge who starts to explain something to me in Spanish. He looks apologetic. I think I know what comes next.

I explain my Spanish isn’t very good, can he slow down?


“Yes, but let me guess. I’m late and lose the first game.”


Fine. I’ll win the next two.

My opponent is cordial; we shake hands, wish each other luck, and begin.

He’s a bit older than me (I think) and plays with careful precision. We get into one of those stalemates with neither of us having many cards in hand. I have made no mistakes that I can remember, but we’re both drawing dead. It takes so long that time is going to be called soon, and the round will end. Finally he breathes a sigh of relief, swings with everything and casts Untamed Might on a guy to end the game.

Team 1-3 drop! It’s beer-thirty baby.

I go over to see how Jaime and his three-color deck are doing. His opponent has a bunch of creatures and a bunch of equipment attached to them. Jaime shows me his hand containing two Turn to Slags… with one Mountain on the board.


Soon a universal gesture is made. No, not that one. Jaime extends the hand.

I drop at 1-3 but had a great day and am glad I came. I continue to learn this format and all the tricks that go with it. I met some great people, extending my circle of friends by a small bit and felt like a part of the Magic community.

This week I finished my book

Secret Force: Quest for the Pro Tour II

now available on Amazon or from my website in paperback or Kindle. The number 12 ranked reviewer on Amazon gave it five stars. I hope you’ll check it out.

Good luck and have fun.

Jamie C. Wakefield
King of the Fatties