The Long & Winding Road – Devil May Cry / My Name is MUD

03162010orlandoheader.gifMonday, March 15th – A little over a year ago, when I started writing for this website, I actually thought about giving up the game again. My Extended PTQ results were awful, and any time I lost a game while at a PTQ, booster draft, or playing FNM, I beat myself up, badly. I felt obligated to do well as a writer, embarrassed by misplays, and under a lot of pressure to do “something” with the game

“Sometimes I wonder why I play this game when I get consumed by mistakes I make and get only a little happy from doing well.”

I’m not going to name the person who typed these words, and they might not even be in reference to Magic — hint: they are — but I want to discuss some of the thoughts and actions that lead someone to feel this way.

I’ll use a personal anecdote outside of Magic before digging in a little deeper.

Devil May Cry 4

I used to be an avid videogame player, and I still am to some extent; while I no longer play Gears of War for hours on end, or rip through a twenty-hour game in three days, videogames are pretty high up on my list of hobbies. Despite the fact that I have less time to play them than at any other point in my life, I still buy most of the popular games, and because I try to beat every game I buy, sometimes my unplayed stack gets awfully large. Recently, I had a few games going at the same time: Batman — Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, and Devil May Cry 4. The first two I’d picked up over the holidays with my PS3, and they’re both tremendous games that I have since beaten.

DMC4 is a different story. I picked it up on clearance last year, and didn’t get to playing it for months. It’s a decent game, albeit one that’s already a bit dated, and sort of outside my normal preference. My only previous experience with the series was the first game, which I got about half-way through before someone stole most of my PS2 games my senior year of college. I enjoyed the first half of this game a lot; solid graphics, crazy over-the-top Japanese storyline, and some intense game-play. It was challenging, but not ridiculously difficult. It’s also pretty deep for the type of game that it is, but much of that depth is lost on me given the fact that I really know nothing about the game’s back-story.

What killed this game for me is the character switch half-way through. I felt like I’d gotten a handle on the depth of the game, only to have to attempt to learn Dante’s controls at a point where the game was much more difficult. There are also elements of the game — such as standing in front of an object and pummeling it with combos to get an arbitrarily large score for power-ups — that didn’t appeal to me at all. I got that out of my system smashing younger kids at Killer Instinct a few decades ago.

To get to the point — around level 15 or 16, I just stopped having fun with DMC4. I slogged through another few levels because I really wanted to beat the game out of some weird need I have to finish what I start. The thing is — who cares if I beat DMC4? I mean, I don’t really care… I’m not going to think any less of myself. I only spent $15 on the game, so getting 12-ish hours of game-play out of it is a pretty solid investment, all things considered. I found playing the game to be increasingly frustrating, and given that I had absolutely no clue what was going on with the story, I definitely felt no need to view the ending. Playing videogames is a hobby for me, so if I’m going to do it, I should probably at least spend the time playing something I like instead of something I feel obligated to play.

Bioshock 2, Infamous, and a host of other, better, games await.

More to the point

Whatever your hobby, you may reach a point with it where you feel the same feelings that inspired the quote I led off with today. It doesn’t really matter what the specific interest or activity is, as one can feel this way about any competitive hobby, sport, or activity. Whether it’s playing music, basketball, studying at school, or playing Magic, you may reach a point where you just want to throw up your hands and say:

Why do I do this to myself?

If you’ve reached this point with Magic, there’s really only one thing I think you can do, and that is to figure out why you’re playing the game.

A little over a year ago, when I started writing for this website, I actually thought about giving up the game again. My Extended PTQ results were awful, and any time I lost a game while at a PTQ, booster draft, or playing FNM, I beat myself up, badly. I felt obligated to do well as a writer, embarrassed by misplays, and under a lot of pressure to do “something” with the game. It didn’t feel fun anymore. Thankfully, my love of the game remains as strong today as ever, as I’ve found formats that are more suited to my level of time investment and desire to travel.

Don’t misunderstand — I still very much want to qualify for a Pro Tour, although you wouldn’t know it given that I haven’t played in a PTQ for a year. Given that I haven’t qualified in fourteen years, though, what’s the rush?

What I’ve realized is that even though I want to play on a Pro Tour, I have zero desire to be a “Pro” player. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the drive, my current life situation wouldn’t really allow it, and I probably don’t even have the talent. That’s not a good combination. I just didn’t want to accept this a year ago, because when I started playing the game those many years ago, that WAS my goal.

Now, Magic is a hobby, and it’s one that I really enjoy again. I still love booster draft, and I’ll happily pick up a deck from any format and help anyone play-test any time. I also take Vintage very seriously, and it’s the only format I’m playing competitively, for a number of reasons I’ll discuss some other time.

As odd as it might sound, I think most Magic players that battle it out at PTQs are in a similar place as I am, or was. They want to make the big show, but at some point, they’ll acknowledge that the game is a hobby and not a way to pay their bills. That doesn’t mean that they won’t still try to quality. The problem is that some will realize they’re engaging in a hobby and enjoy it, win or lose, while others will become bitter and jaded.

For instance, if you’re playing in a PTQ, and you set up an infinite loop with Elves, and mark yourself to infinite life and forget about the infinite draw trigger that would make you lose the game, and your opponent calls you on it and then scoops up their cards to go to the next game… and you argue your way out of it by explaining to the judge that you didn’t actually demonstrate the loop and therefore your opponent scooped, and this sticks… you’re playing the game for the wrong reason, in my opinion.

If you’re playing this game because you feel obligated to, or because you’re trying to prove you’re superior to someone else in some way, or you’re trying to live up to other people’s expectations, you’re probably playing it for the wrong reason.

And although there’s nothing wrong with maximizing your EV in tournaments, and play-testing so that you’ll do well at events, and even having an expectation of winning tournaments or hitting prizes in your events and holding yourself accountable for your mistakes — you still shouldn’t be playing FOR the prize unless you’re really supporting yourself with the game. For nearly everyone, the time and money you invest into Magic is not going to yield huge profits, or profits at all. One of the turning points for me was realizing that I could work overtime at my job most weekends and double the expected profit I had for nearly all but the biggest Magic tournaments. If I was really playing for the prize, and not for the enjoyment, it’d make a lot more sense to stop playing altogether and just… work.

You also need to realize that except for the greatest players, most people will have hot and cold streaks. You’ll be better at some formats than others, especially those that have frequent rotations (like Standard and Extended). You’ll do better with some decks than others. That’s ok — when you’re on a streak, enjoy it! When you’re playing well in a format you understand and enjoy, live in that moment and remember it later when your results have cooled off.

So what would I tell my friend?

Play the game because you ENJOY playing the game. Play it because you enjoy increasing the skill level of your play, even if at times your results may be hot or cold. Play it because it gives you an excuse to travel places with your friends, and sometimes make that trip free by winning some prizes. Play it for the stories, the collection that most players inevitably end up with, the legacy you create for yourself and the people you play with.

If you really aren’t enjoying the game — try a different format. Give the metagame time to shift. Try picking up a new deck, or make sure you include some casual playing (like Cube or EDH, where you can still sling powerful cards and practice useful skills, but do so in a more relaxed atmosphere). If that doesn’t work, take a break until the game is fun again.

You’re not playing to pay the rent — don’t play out of a sense of obligation. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up because you think people have high expectations of you, or because you have high expectations of yourself. You should have high expectations because you’re a great player, but if you’re getting consumed in your mistakes, take a step back and figure out the root cause; disinterest, fatigue, whatever it might be — these things don’t make you a bad player, or suggest you should hang it up. One of the great things about being on a team is that even if your results aren’t great, you’re probably helping other people succeed, whether you realize it or not — and there’s a lot of value in that.

A lot of people ask me how I’ve done so well at Vintage tournaments the past six months, and the answer is easy: I’m on a team with players much better, and more versed in the format, than I am, and the more I test with them, the better I do. It’s a deceptively simple formula and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity. I also believe these things tend to be cyclical.

Well, enough of that… maybe deck-lists are more your thing.

My Name is MUD

By the time this goes live on SCG, I’ll have my sixth Vintage tournament of 2010 behind me. I’m still not sure what I’m going to play, but I’ve been testing this quite a bit:

I know you’re loving that singleton Metalworker, but to explain, it’s just replacing Mana Vault as it strikes me as generally a more powerful card in this deck — but I’m also not in love with the idea of packing a set of Metalworkers, as quad Metalworker decks don’t tend to win many (or, really, any…) Vintage tournaments these days.

My first foray into Workshop territory didn’t go well, but the decks are powerful and fun to play, so I want to take another shot. So why MUD?

• This deck abuses Chalice of the Void like no other. You can play Chalice on 1 with impunity and only lock yourself out of Sol Ring; Chalice on 1 is hugely disruptive to a large number of decks in the format. While Chalice on 2 counters most of your own lock pieces, it also in no way prevents you from winning the game, while being a massive problem to opposing Fish, Oath, and Tezz players.

• MUD doesn’t really get mana-screwed. There are no colored cards, and 28 mana-producers in the deck.

• MUD pounces all over opponents that stumble at any phase of the game. The deck is almost entirely permanents, and it clogs up the board with brutal speed and efficiency.

• Compared to most Workshop decks, MUD hits hard. A single Factory and Juggs / Karn / Golem create a fast clock that can end games before opponents recover, which is an issue with many traditional Stax decks.

I put this deck together to combat Oath decks in particular, with Powder Keg and Duplicants in the main to help win games on the draw, with additional protection in the sideboard in Eon Hub. This build can also sideboard eleven cards in against Dredge. This is a minimally controlling build that lacks Smokestack, but still controls the board via lock pieces, Port, Tangle Wire, Powder Keg, and Crucible of Worlds. It isn’t as aggressive as the version that recently won the NYSE VI in New York (see below), which had a full set of Juggernauts and main-deck Razormane Masticore, and doesn’t include the Metalworker / Staff combo or Sword of Fire and Ice as many MUD decks do. That may position it in an awkward in-between role where it isn’t aggressive or controlling enough… but in testing, I’ve been quite happy with this deck. It locks out the board and then mops up pretty quickly with one or two win conditions.

Both Rishadan Port and Mishra’s Factory have been surprisingly good, and worth losing a few acceleration pieces. I also like the fact that MUD is a relatively straight-forward deck to play in terms of turn progression — but it can still be a challenging deck, as the choice of Chalice of the Void on 1, Thorn of Amethyst, Sphere of Resistance, or Powder Keg on turn 1 can determine the outcome of the game.

Powder Keg has also been very good in testing, and this is old technology I used to really like in Nick Detwiler and crew’s 5C Stax list.

The reason I’m testing this deck at all is to try and find a better home for Lodestone Golem. That card is just so good… it needs a home, it really does.

For reference, this is Ashok Chitturi’s build that won at the last NYSE tournament:

There are a lot of elements of this deck that I like, and it was my starting point. It did seem like there were a few too many creatures for my liking, and I wanted Crucible of Worlds badly in a number of games as the list slowly changed into the one I listed above.

That’s all I have for this week, folks. Until next time — play tight, play hard, and play the right way, for the right reasons.

Matt Elias
[email protected]
Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source