The Kitchen Table #214 – The Challenge Results

Read Abe Sargent every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Hello folks, and welcome to the first article of the new year! This is your weekly column committed to bringing you the casual. Three weeks ago, I submitted an official challenge to deckbuilders and readers of the column to submit decks that met various criteria. Today, I will be bringing these decks to you.

Hello folks, and welcome to the first article of the new year! This is your weekly column committed to bringing you the casual. Three weeks ago, I submitted an official challenge to deckbuilders and readers of the column to submit decks that met various criteria. Today, I will be bringing these decks to you.

I do have a bit of a mini-rant before we kick things off. Magic: the Electronic has pissed me off in a way the company has never done before. I have defended Wizards, and I have attacked them as well. I love Timeshifted cards, was insulted by Nephilim, loved their overall strategy to make better cards, lauded Champions as one of the best sets of all time (along with Planar Chaos and Future Sight), asked for more chaotic effects from Red other than coin flipping, and more. I have applied for jobs there, calling it my dream job to work at Wizards… but now I’m pretty frustrated with the whole thing.

Before we go into the details below, allow me to pause for a moment and state a few things. Over the years, I have developed a strong reputation as an ethicist. I have a keen sense of what is right and what is wrong, and I have advised peers, supervisors, and employees on ethical issues in personal life, at work, and dealing with others. I am the person with over 2500 MP3s, and every one is legal. I am the person who has never drunk a drop of alcohol.

I have my areas of temptation, as do we all, but understand that I am keenly aware of and heed to ethics, and expect others to do the same. When they do not, I get upset. That may be one of my flaws, I admit it, but I do expect others to act appropriately. I also can turn my sense of right and wrong into arrogance; that’s another flaw of mine. I will get upset at a guy who just walks through a door and doesn’t hold it open for someone right behind him. I get upset at the person who uses homosexual epithets as a slur. No one is perfect… we all have flaws, and I recognize that. However, one of my issues with the below activity is that the system didn’t recognize that, which you are about to read. Enjoy! (Or, if you don’t care, skip down to the deck section, that’s fine by me).

The following events occurred several weeks ago, but I didn’t access my e-mail account that is tied to my online account because my laptop was down, and that’s where I played Magic: the Electronic. Since I couldn’t play it, I saw no need to check the e-mail account I created in order to use it.

Therefore, I discovered this just a few days ago, after the return of my laptop, when I checked out my e-mail. I’ll tell you what happened, then move into my response.

Several weeks ago, I wanted to play some Masters Edition drafts. I swung by the draft room and there was a 4-3-2-2 Masters draft queue. I hadn’t done any Masters Edition drafts, and I wanted to do a few before the set was discontinued.

Now, in a 4-3-2-2 draft queue, the prizes are distributed in packs with four to first place, three to second, and then two each to third and fourth. They are eight man queues, so if you win the first round, you get two packs. However, even if you win the entire draft, you don’t win that much more than you do if you win just one round, so I draft different when I play in a 4-3-2-2 draft as opposed to the other option, the 8-4 draft. As my readers know, I rare draft a lot, and this was my first opportunity to draft Masters. That should tell you that my rare drafting strategy was in full force. If I play in an 8-4 draft, then I’ll often set aside rare drafting and just try to win. Getting eight packs is a bonanza far greater than what you could draft.

This will be where some people who don’t like rare drafting might take a chance to swing at me in the forums, but please note that the strategy used will not apply to the issue in this situation.

I had enough packs and tix for four drafts. In the first, I won in the first round, then lost in the next one, so I should win two packs. I followed that up immediately with a second draft, where I scrubbed out. By then, the original tournament had ended but I received no prize support. I then moved to the support room and asked an adept what was going on. The Adept informed me that the Masters draft has been mislabeled as 4-3-2-2 when it was in fact an 8-4, but I should just e-mail Wizards and let them know in order to get my prizes. I was pointed to the specific form I needed to fill out, and I went and did so.

I have no problems so far. I can understand an occasional mistake like that, and since the Adept indicated that I would be receiving prizes later, I went ahead and played my last two drafts. In the third draft, I again won in the first round, scoring two more packs. Then in the final draft of the day, I didn’t make it out of the first round. In four drafts, I made it to the second round twice, so I should have won four Masters Edition packs.

I sent out e-mails to Wizards letting them know about the failed prize support and the mislabeled draft queue. I described the situation and moved on, confident that I would be receiving my prize support. I awaited packs, and to be fair, it took them just a few days to respond, but by then, my laptop had broke down, so I didn’t follow up until I discovered their response just now. They rejected my claim. I will quote the appropriate paragraph:

“I’m sorry, but we can only do refunds for problems that are directly related to our product (server crashes, bugs, etc). Internet connections, computer problems, or software conflicts on your computer are out of our control and cannot be compensated. I have checked and our servers were up and running at the date/time you reported. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

I have several responses to this e-mail and, should this e-mail represent their policy, with then these responses apply to their general policy as well.

1). It was their fault. This was an error directly related to the Magic: the Electronic client. They mislabeled the prize structure of a draft queue, that’s their fault, not mine.

2). Of the listed items that they do not compensate, none even remotely apply in this case. The Internet was connected, my computer hadn’t broken down yet, and my client was up to date. This was a prize support issue on their end, not a hardware or software issue on mine. They failed to provide a prize that they claimed they would. It is as simple as that.

3). The fact that the technician goes on to say that the server was checked and it was up and running demonstrates that someone may not have been paying attention to my complaint, which was that I didn’t get the appropriate prize, not that the system crashed.

4). Since I was informed by an Adept that this was a known issue that I could get packs for, that increases my case for packs. I think I should get packs for the first draft regardless, but if the Adept had advised me not to keep playing if I was uncomfortable with an 8-4 prize structure, I would have stopped. However, I was advised that I could get the prize that I earned by submitted the ticket to Wizards.

To sum up, I did not get a prize that Wizards said I should. Now, I know the Terms of Service, because I’m the one who read them over and over and interpreted them for you. I realize that the interpretation of the ToS that Wizards can greatly change the structure and status of Magic: the Electronic. They left themselves a lot of wiggle room, and likely don’t HAVE to give me my packs if they don’t want to. I also know that the packs I was promised represent a small amount of money and cards.

Imagine you go to your store’s weekly tournament. You are promised prizes for the Top 8, which you barely make, and then, after the tournament, the organizer says that the prize structure wasn’t what was announced. Instead, it was secretly something else, and you no longer get prizes. You would rightfully be infuriated. Now imagine that you changed your deck or drafting strategy based on the prize support. How much more upset would you be? Then, when you protest to the organizer, you are told that, “Since it was your fault, we aren’t going to give you the prizes we promised.”

You are really upset. What do you then? You leave, and you don’t come back to buy any other cards or play in any other tournament. In fact, you are so upset, that you aren’t even going to come back on Thursday night for casual play. You certainly aren’t going to advertise that store any more as a great place to play on your playgroup’s website.

I’m doing the same. As of today, I am not going to purchase another pack or ticket from Magic Online. They will not make another cent from me. Furthermore, I am not going to play casually either. That is completely done. Lastly, I’m not going to even discuss Magic: the Electronic in any of my articles, but if I do, I am forevermore going to refer to it as Magic: the Scamming. No more prismatic, no tribal, no PPS that I was planning to write, no more “Decks From the Casual Room,” nothing.

In fact, I’ll even do one more. As of today, I will actively laud and use competing products, like Apprentice, in my columns, thus promoting other outlets for your casual fun. All over four packs of Masters Edition that I was not awarded when I should have been.

And no, I am NOT going to give someone my Magic: the Scamming nick in order to make it all right by having them award me my four packs. I shouldn’t have to be a Magic writer in order to get good or even decent service from a company, it should be equitable for all customers. No one at the company e-mail me or pm my SCG account to make it right, because this was so far out of bounds, your meager attempts at service recovery are laughable. The only reason you would do so is because I’m a writer, and I would find that insulting.

How do I know that any attempt would be because I’m a writer and not because they honestly made a mistake and want to fix it? There is no place to appeal the decision. As a judicial officer for housing, I knew I wasn’t perfect, so there was always an opportunity to appeal to my boss if a student felt I had mishandled a situation, and every letter I sent out had the procedure to do so. Even for minor decisions and minor offenses, a resident had a chance to appeal my decision. After working for government for a while, I know that is how many bureaus work as well. If you are denied worker’s comp or social security benefits, right there on the letter telling you your denial is the procedure to appeal. Is there any procedure to appeal here?


Call up a store and talk to their customer service. Should you be unhappy with their responses and desire an appeal, ask to speak with a manager. It happens all of the time, from, “I didn’t get workers comp,” all the way to, ‘There are pickles on my cheeseburger.”

With no way for me to appeal the decision, they are telling me it is final and irreversible. The average player doesn’t have an Internet column for them to lambaste Wizards, so they have no route to appeal, and I shouldn’t have one either.

To me, this may represent a shift in Wizards’s Magic: the Scamming policies to a more hardline approach. Before, people would talk about how the company would regularly give out replacement product, but obviously, if it ever was the case, it certainly isn’t now. I am simply screwed out of four Magic packs, and no matter what the price tag might be on those four packs, the simple fact is that I was promised something by their system, then I was promised it by an Adept, then upon further review, the company decided to change their policy.

Don’t play Magic: the Scamming if you fear it will happen to you. Go play somewhere else. Apprentice is fine, allows more cards, and is free.

It may not have the card art, and it plays like a virtual tabletop where you have to move the cards and know the rules, but you can play every card made and any format you desire. Expect Apprentice articles from me in the future, no question about it.

All of this over four online packs of Magic with no printing costs that would have been free to the company to give me. .

Was it worth it, Wizards?

Alright now, let’s shift gears to the more happy side of Magic. Before we look at the winning decks, let’s see the criteria under which they were judged.

1). The deck must be one of these two four-color combinations: Black/Blue/Green/Red or Black/Blue/Red/White. I have never used these color combinations in a deck, so I want to see what these deckbuilders can do with those colors.

2). Gotta have tempo. I need to see tempo elements in decks. It could be anything from dedicated tempo cards like Winter Orb to things like Man-o’-War.

3). Gotta have 187 critters. I need to see creatures with a 187 ability in the deck, such as Ghitu Slinger.

4). Gotta have recursion. I need to see decks with some sort of recursive element, such as Twilight’s Call.

5). Gotta have creature sacrificing, which may or may not be in the form of Goblin Bombardment.

6). Must be legal somewhere.

The winning decks are those that maximize all elements.

Before I head into the top 3 decks, I want to take a second and thank all of the respondents. Good job all! There were some very clever decks in here.

Alright, with that said, let’s take a look at the Honorable Mention.

I was wondering if someone would use a Nephilim since this was a four-color challenge, and there were several submissions that did just that. Gene actually tied for third place score with Will Terry and my tiebreaker was my tilt score, because I felt that Gene’s deck was more original and up to the moment with the four Galepowder Magi, three Shriekmaws, a Brion Stoutarm, and four Mulldrifters.

As you can see, this deck likes 187 creatures, and maxed out its score in that area. Angel of Despair, Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, Karmic Guide, and Flametongue Kavu are all great 187 creatures with a significant impact on the board. You simply cannot deny the power of this suite of creatures.

I also felt his recursion was top notch. Yore-Tiller Nephilim is a great way to bring back your creatures, but it is not the only way. Adarkar Valkyrie will bring them back to play after dying, great for saving a creature and triggering it again. Karmic Guide brings back a creature. I felt a deck needed to have at last six cards usually to have a strong representation of that element, and here those six cards even put the creatures into play, not just into your hand, so they are very strong. Don’t forget the synergy between Brion Stoutarm and Adarkar Valkyrie.

Where I dinged Gene’s score was in the tempo and sacrifice areas. Angel of Despair can hit lands, and there is some tempo in that, plus Galepowder Mage can keep a creature from blocking, but that’s not much. Similarly, the single copy of Brion gave the deck the lowest possible score in sacrifice without disqualifying the deck. Although I think Gene’s deck is clever and has some great tricks, it could also shore itself up by playing more Brions and more tempo, like Vindicate. I did give it some credit because the transmute Dimir House Guard can get Brion, but you might prefer a Wrath, Galepowder Mage, FTK, or Yore-Tiller, leaving you stuck with no Brion.

Now, let’s take a look at some of these tricks. I already mentioned Adarkar Valkyrie plus Brion Stoutarm. Sac a creature and bring it directly back into play. It triggers again, you deal damage and gain that life. Attack with Yore-Tiller Nephilim and put Rakdos into play after it would trigger and hurt you. Now it can steamroll over your opponent, making them sacrifice many permanents if it hits. Attack with Galepowder Mage and Yore-Tiller, popping out Yore-Tiller to keep it alive but still bringing back the creature from your graveyard that you want.

Thanks again, Gene, for the deck!

Let’s see what got second place:

Congrats to Daniel Walker for getting second place. He had the highest scoring traditional deck by far. Let’s take a look.

Daniel got the highest score of any deck in tempo, with the only entry that had a perfect score. This tempo is amazing. Linessa, Patron Wizard, the Aethermage to get Linessa, and so forth. I also am enamored with the tribal theme, which I simply never expected to see in one of the entries, so Daniel gets props there as well.

With all of the Emissaries and Battlemagi, this deck is primed for serious 187ing, and Daniel scored perfect here as well, although Gene did and Number one did as well. Getting a max score in 187 creatures apparently isn’t too difficult. This deck recurs creatures, pops artifacts, enchantments, forces a discard of three, kills nonblack creatures, gains three life, Backlash a creature, and forces a discard of two cards all off the CIP abilities. That’s pretty tasty.

For recursion, the deck has the four Pit Keepers and that’s it. This was the weakest category for Daniel, and I gave him just a two (out of five) here.

In sacrificing, he only had two Voidmage Prodigy in his deck, but they can sac all of the creatures in the deck, which is pretty cool. I gave him a three here, and that would have increased to a four with a full set of Prodigies.

I like Arcanis in the deck and he’s pretty good. Even Veldaken Aethermage is a solid and unconventional choice. I also like that Daniel stayed away from too many wizards, like Nameless One and Information Dealer.

I gave Daniel a good tilt score, but not perfect, because I fear that the Stupor and The Rack work at odds with other elements of the deck. With bouncing from Linessa, and fear of counters from patron Wizard and Voidmage, I’m not sure that your opponent will be The Rackable, even with the Battlemagi and Stupor. Instead, I would have used those slots to round out the deck by playing two more Prodigies, and then something like a hard counterspell, pinpoint removal, and such. Adding Terminate and Counterspell would make this a much better deck, I feel.

Still, this is simply the best traditional deck submitted this time. In fact, this deck scored better in this contest than the winning deck did from the last contest I had. In other words, the second place deck today would have beaten the top deck from my first contest. It’s just Daniel’s bad luck that a less traditional entry came along to snatch victory from his grasp.

Before I move into the top deck, I want to congratulate Daniel on his really interesting and surprising submission, along with Gene Guth with Honorable Mention, Will Terry who just barely missed out on Honorable Mention, and Billy Hewlett, who rounded out my top five at number five. Now, let’s take a look at the deck that took the prize home.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Ben built a highlander deck at 100 cards long. I love it! Let’s take a look:

187 creatures? I got your 187 creatures right here. Ben lists 22 creatures as 187 creatures in his deck description, but I actually think there are 25. From Benthicore to Man-o’-War to Seht’s Tiger to Whitemane Lion, this deck is packed with 187 creatures. He got a full score here no question.

What about tempo? This was Ben’s lowest score, despite elements like Man-o’-War, Aethersnipe, Riftwing Cloudskate, Angel of Despair, and Hoverguard Sweepers. I gave him a three here.

Let’s take a look at recursion. Here he also does amazingly, with cards lie Reya, Recurring Nightmare, Malevolent Awakening, Cauldron Dance, Yore-Tiller Nephilim, Pit Keeper, Adarkar Valkyrie, Dread Return, and the classic Volrath’s Stronghold. Just one question — where’s Gravedigger? This is a perfect deck for the Gravedigger, and none to be seen. *Sigh*

Lastly, we have sacrifice engines a plenty, although again, where’s Goblin Bombardment itself? It’d be great for this deck! Greater Gargadon, Brion Stoutarm, Recurring Nightmare, Malevolent Awakening, and Dread Return. I especially like the Gargadon, because that’s clever. I gave Ben a four rating here.

For tilt I gave him a full five points. Major credit for going highlander, going with a card count over 60, and having amazing support for his cards. Reading his decklist reads like a Who’s Who of 187 creatures. Momentary Blink works wonders, Izzet Chronarch returns a needed card, Perplex loves transmute, and more. Every time I look at the decklist I find tricks, from Sneak Attack to Aethermage’s Touch, Ink-Eyes to Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Stonecloaker to Nezumi Graverobber, this deck is packed with goodies.

In fact, the cards here so often support the theme, that the occasional card which does not stand out like a sore thumb — example: Lightning Angel. It doesn’t match the theme.

This is simply an amazing deck, and I am tempted to shuffle it and play it tomorrow. This is a great deck!

Other cards I would have considered include Warren Pilferers, Galepowder Mage, Living Death, and Karmic Guide.

Thanks to all of our participants, and to our winner Ben Gasser!

See you all next week when I’ll either be writing about Five Color or the sequel to the Magic: RPG.

Until later,

Abe Sargent