The Death Of An Idea
My fingers went numb as I saw the login screen. What was my password again? Did it even matter? Thoughts were swirling through my head at a rapid pace, with regret and disdain at the forefront. Magic Online was the one constant I’d had in my life over the last twelve years and had been around almost as long as I had been playing Magic. And now it was just a hollow shell of what it once was. The rooms were a ghost town. Over a thousand people waiting for events to resurge, knowing deep down that it would be weeks or maybe even months before things would become whole again. People were selling their collections, cashing out before it was too late. The sky was falling, and I was screaming right along with Chicken Little. This was the end.
I saw people going crazy on Twitter and Facebook, all exclaiming how important Magic Online was to their way of life. The grinders, their bank accounts, and even some of their children. To many, it was a job. It was a way for them to constantly supply food and shelter for their loved ones. A modest living to be sure, but a living none the less. What were they going to do now?
"Connecting . . . "
Story of my life. The time I’ve spent on this program . . . this product. It is daunting to think about. I have probably wasted at least a year of my life (maybe more) playing the digital version of a card game. Countless hours battling against faceless opponents on a journey to be better at a game, failing to realize that I was failing to better myself both physically and mentally. I watched the screen, waiting for it to log in, and decided it was a better idea to just close the program.
For those of you who aren’t exactly keen on Magic Online, it crashed recently on two major events. Brian Kibler was one of the people most affected by this crash, being dropped from the MOCS while locked for Top 8, and he went ballistic. In a recent article, he said that Magic Online shouldn’t exist in its current state, and I agree with him. Something similar happened to me recently in a Magic Online PTQ Top 8 where a bug froze my game and I ended up on the losing end of the exchange. Yes, I was compensated, but I would have gladly handed back every single penny for a chance to play the rest of that match and the two matches to follow. I have wasted so many hours and so much money striving for one goal and one goal alone: to qualify for the next Pro Tour. What was a bunch of booster packs in exchange for the death of an idea?
But that’s just it, isn’t it? I am not a big enough name in the game to warrant a change, and Brian Kibler is. The program failed both of us, but nothing was done about it until he took on the mission for himself. With just a few tweets and a blog post, Wizards of the Coast responded with drastic measures, cutting all relevant events from their program until things are fixed.
It feels like a slap in the face. It feels like I am not worth as much as a player as someone else. It feels like people only took the issue seriously once Kibler got involved even though we’ve been dealing with this for years. Crashes are nothing new to Magic Online; they’ve been happening with stunning regularity, and to what end? Nothing has been done about it. No one has tried to fix it—until now.
I know that it is possibly a budget issue. I know that the guys who are working on the program aren’t the ones who make that decision. Overall, I am glad that a serious change has come to Magic Online, but I can only hope that the outcome will be a finalized product that isn’t a complete disgrace.
I am happy to admit that I didn’t play Magic Online for a single second for almost a week. What did I do instead? I decided to try to quit smoking, eat better, and go to the gym on a regular basis. I know that signing up for a gym isn’t the finalized product, but it is a start. And one that I needed desperately. I even have an appointment with a personal trainer tomorrow. It is amazing how much free time we have to better ourselves when we aren’t strapped to a computer chair. And it took this event, this collapsing infrastructure, to finally oust me out of my comfortable complacent lifestyle.
My first session at the gym began with playing some basketball. And by that I don’t mean that I went all out with a group of guys, battling on a full court. I just decided that I was sick of sitting at home doing nothing and wanted to get out of the house. I took my basketball, flat as it was, and went to join the same gym as Brad, BBD, and Kali. It was hard at first. Really hard. Just going there, knowing that something was about to change, was incredibly difficult to handle. I knew that this was going to be the start of something I hadn’t done in a long time.
So I just went. Me and my flat basketball, joining a gym and looking for some people to play with. Unfortunately, there was no one else there to play basketball with, so I just did the exercises I remembered from high school.
Stretch. Jog around the court. Layups. Free throws. Dribbling exercises.
I tried my best in my terrible condition to pick up where I had left off so long ago. I stayed there on that court for an hour by myself. Just shooting. Just walking, running, and playing. It felt good. My lungs were burning, and sweat was pouring down my face. It felt good to be active again, trying to get better at a game that I had long forgotten.
Before I went to the gym, I wanted to just drive around town and think about what to do with myself. I wanted to find a different avenue of escape since Magic Online had always been there when I needed it. Instead, I was trying to escape from Magic Online.
For many of you, that might sound frightening. And to me, it was a nightmare. I didn’t realize how important Magic Online had been to me over the years until it became . . . something different. Now, instead of wanting to play Magic Online, I have to play Magic Online. For testing, for recording videos, but nothing else. Not for fun. Just work. And that is frightening to me.
At Grand Prix Washington DC, I had multiple people ask me what I was playing. My response?
True-Name Nemesis is here to stay, for better or for worse. And the best friend of True-Name Nemesis is obviously Stoneforge Mystic. Virtually any relevant Equipment on True-Name Nemesis is hell for the opponent. I beat multiple opponents by just casting and equipping Sword of Fire and Ice on Vendilion Clique, Snapcaster Mage, or even Deathrite Shaman. Being able to deal them a ton of damage while drawing extra cards was pretty absurd.
I thought Esper Deathblade would be the best deck at the tournament. While I started off 7-2, my friend Rudy Briksza (aka Biscuits) went 9-0 on day 1 and stumbled slightly on day 2 to miss Top 8 by a small margin. The deck was absurd for many reasons, but the main reason was True-Name Nemesis and how it altered the spectrum of the fair matchups.
If you study the above list, you’ll notice that I shied away from basic lands. I’m under the impression that basic lands in a three- or four-color deck are just tragically bad. You have so many situations where you draw a basic land instead of a dual land and are unable to cast important spells that it completely negates the positive effects of being able to play around Blood Moon. And do you even get to play around Blood Moon with your basic lands?
Honestly, when you play a deck with three colors, it is almost impossible to function under a Blood Moon. Having an Island or a Plains in play before they cast Blood Moon won’t really do all that much, so you really just need to make sure you can counter their stuff or Thoughtseize them before they get it into play. Or maybe that’s just my take on the situation.
Instead, I opted for a "stronger" assortment of colored lands, an extra Wasteland to punish opponents when I drew a Deathrite Shaman, and access to Abrupt Decay in the sideboard. The extra Wasteland should probably have been another Tundra (or just another colored source) to help out with the varying costs of the cards in my deck, but I wasn’t able to actually play any games with my deck before submitting my list for the tournament thanks to True-Name Nemesis not being available on Magic Online yet.
As expected, Jace, the Mind Sculptor was much worse in the format because of the addition of True-Name Nemesis, and I was very happy trimming down to two and may even consider none or zero in the near future. The best ability on Jace was the Unsummon effect to gain tempo advantage while I was beating my opponents down with True-Name Nemesis. Hilariously enough, I actually considered playing some number of Vapor Snags instead of Jace before the tournament, and I am confident that would have been a better choice.
Daze is a card that I’ve wanted in the list, especially alongside Wasteland and Deathrite Shaman. You can punish opponents so easily with ridiculous starts, and Daze helps compound those problems when you are bottlenecking their mana. The deck would change fundamentally, probably requiring fewer overall lands and cutting Jace altogether, but I think Daze would be a huge asset.
The main tension within the deck was keeping enough blue spells for Force of Will in the maindeck. This meant staying away from Dark Confidant, though it would have been stellar against many of my opponents. Instead, Snapcaster Mage had to suffice. There is an argument for playing more blue disruption over the discard spells in order to achieve the desired number of blue spells for Force of Will, which would probably allow Dark Confidant to find space in the deck once again. There are so many avenues to go down with this deck that I have absolutely no idea which one is correct at the moment, nor which one will be correct for the next Legacy tournament I attend.
But on the other end of the spectrum, Owen Turtenwald also played Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis in his take on U/W/R Delver. I played against Matt Costa playing 74 out of Owen’s 75 and thoroughly smashed him thanks to playing four True-Name Nemesises in the maindeck, as that was my easy route to victory in both games. Deathrite Shaman also helped out a ton in keeping me from losing to his Wastelands, Dazes, and Spell Pierces.
While both decks are very good, I think that the U/W/R Delver list is particularly strong at defending against opposing combo decks. With four Spell Pierces, Dazes, and Force of Wills alongside Wasteland and very aggressive pressure, I can see how easily he dispatched his combo opponents. Right before the finals match against Sneak and Show, I was talking with W Jensen. He said, "And now the best anti Sneak and Show player in the world gets to play against Sneak and Show." Really? You think that the guy who battles against Huey Jensen playing Sneak and Show constantly is prepared for the Sneak and Show matchup?
"He always beats me."
Those were the last words Huey spoke to me on the weekend, and then Owen handily defeated his Sneak and Show opponent in the final round of the tournament, taking down the title and improving on his last finish in a Grand Prix in Washington DC.
It was awesome to watch the last member of the Peach Garden Oath finally take down a Grand Prix title, and the fact that they all have a Grand Prix win in the last six months is absurd. Huey, Owen, and Reid Duke are close friends, and I envy their friendship and commitment to the game. It was a delight to watch Owen close out his first Grand Prix win, and it was even sweeter to see the joy on the faces of Huey and Reid when he won the tournament.
I can only hope that I have that kind of relationship one day.
I ended up finishing 12-3 at the Grand Prix for 23rd place, a few more Pro Points, and a pat on the shoulder. With nine Pro Points under my belt, I’m stilling grinding away, trying to get to twenty before the end of the season so I can potentially qualify for a Pro Tour next year via Silver, but at this point I’m sure they’ll change it before the end of the year just to mess with me. It would be fitting after all.
Next week I’ll be attending Grand Prix Alberquerquequeuureuuer in one last attempt to qualify for Pro Tour Valencia before taking a couple weeks off for Thanksgiving. The format is Standard, and I honestly have no idea what to play. I haven’t been able to maintain a winning record in Standard with any deck since Grand Prix Louisville, so I don’t think that Mono-Black Devotion is the place to be. You get beat up on pretty badly by the aggressive decks, but maybe you can change something to fix that. I’m honestly not sure, and I don’t have the time or patience to play much Magic Online at the moment to figure it out.
Mono-Blue Devotion seems like a reasonable choice. The cards are all absurd, but people are finding more and more ways to beat Master of Waves so the card is becoming less and less like an auto-win than it was just a few weeks ago. Maybe I’m overvaluing the significance of the hate for the deck, but I’ve also had my fair share of hands featuring Mutavault and Nightveil Specter, so I honestly don’t know where to stand.
The deck is obviously strong. You have so many early draws that feature Cloudfin Raptor applying an obscene amount of pressure, not to mention how strong Tidebinder Mage is at the moment. So many green and red decks are present in the metagame, making Tidebinder Mage a surreal threat. Tapping down an Elvish Mystic is pretty absurd when you’re on the play, but keeping things like Stormbreath Dragon and opposing Ash Zealots under control is just ridiculous.
And then there’s Thassa. To be honest, I don’t think the deck would be playable without Thassa. You have so many creatures that seem fairly lackluster and are mostly there just to make Thassa into a 5/5, but man oh man what a threat she can be. Sam Black wrote about how strong Thassa was in his exploits at Pro Tour Theros and Grand Prix Louisville, and I am inclined to agree.
It is likely that I’ll be playing some sort of devotion deck come #GPABQ because it seems silly to me to play anything that is less powerful. Esper and U/W Control seem fine, but I hate being reactive when there are so many resilient and proactive strategies in the format. The trick is finding out which of the devotion decks will be hated on the least and building it correctly. I do have a few days to put it all together, so here’s hoping!
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