The Magic Show #97 – Hollywood Bound

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Friday, May 23rd – Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re in Hollywood, and I’m going to tell you what I think you’ll be reading about in the coverage this weekend, just what in the hell we’re going to do about Magic Online 3.0, and more. Let’s go!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re in Hollywood, and I’m going to tell you what I think you’ll be reading about in the coverage this weekend, just what in the hell we’re going to do about Magic Online 3.0, and more. Let’s go!

Faeries, Faeries Everywhere…

Last week I gave you the rundown on my Mono-Red Burn deck designed by Owen Turtenwald and Chris Nighbor, and this week Patrick Chapin drops my name about a hundred times mentioning it as a valid tool to beat Faeries decks.

Then, of course, there are the people who note that I got extremely lucky on Sunday by not seeing a single Forest played against me. This goes with the territory of simply playing Magic. Sometimes you never see a single Forest, and other times you just get your worst matchup all day. Some Faeries players played a different archetype each round, while the winner played mirror matches for seven rounds (also known as the circles of Hell).

The question is not that Faeries is the best deck, because we all know it is. The question now becomes, what is the best anti deck? What stops the best and doesn’t curl up to the rest? This becomes an issue. Let’s take an example that was also noted on the forums, from back in the awful Mirrodin-Kamigawa Standard environment.

In this Tier 1 metagame, there was Affinity and there was everything else. On one side you had the Affinity players, throwing in their Electrostatic Bolts in order to get an edge in the mirror. On the other side you had decks that were trying to beat Affinity. The most prominent of those was Tooth & Nail, a deck that thrived long after Affinity was banned into oblivion. Tooth & Nail could beat virtually any “anti-Affinity” deck out there. The ‘Freshmakers’ builds with their Kiki-Jiki’s, Viridian Shamans and Rootrunners, Big Red decks, things of that nature. However, the deck that beat Tooth & Nail consistently, Jushi Blue, could not beat Affinity. This gave you your Rock / Paper / Scissors metagame.

Many argued this isn’t actually the best way to structure a healthy environment, and thankfully those voices won, as seen in future blocks when Tier 1 decks and cards were left by the wayside. But for argument’s sake, this was what you had.

Last Friday Mike Flores wrote an absolutely incredible article detailing just what taking one of these options really means. What it means to be the best deck, which in his example was Paper. Imagine a Top 8 filled with Paper decks, two Rock decks, and your Scissors deck. How brilliant are you now that you have the Scissors deck? Pretty damn brilliant if you ask me.

For a real life example of this, take a look at the StarCityGames $2K results. Notice anything? Let’s turn them into Rock / Scissors / Paper to get a better idea. I’m not saying I’m brilliant for stumbling into the right deck for the right tournament. But what I am saying, and what Mike was getting at, is that the best deck for the tournament is not necessarily the best deck for the Top 8.

As I pointed out last week, I misplayed my Top 4 match something awful and lost. Had I played the match the same way I played it in the Swiss, I would probably be basking in the glory of my first place finish. The Red deck really does have an incredible advantage over Faeries, but bad play will still lose you a match, just like it did Jushi Blue when making a mistake against Tooth and Nail.

This weekend we’ll see an incredibly exciting Standard Pro Tour to help kick off Regionals and Nationals. In it we’ll see a huge variety of Faeries decks, probably including some technology such as Commandeer main deck or Sudden Spoiling in the sideboard to take advantage of unsuspecting players. But Faeries, I’m convinced, is not the best choice for the tournament. Not by a long shot. This weekend will be defined by what best beats the Faeries decks. The winner of the tournament will most likely not be something packing Bitterblossom, but rather, the deck that is most likely to punish those who play it. Right now I don’t see anything better than a few burn spells and some meaty manlands. But that could and most likely will change as the tournament concludes.

The most popular deck will be Faeries. No question there, I’m guessing at least 30 to 40% of the field. The second most popular will probably be Rock variants, which basically includes anything that has Imperious Perfect in it. After that will be a huge smattering of Red decks, which could also throw in a little Green for things like Tarmogoyf, Krosan Grip, and other surprises thanks to mana fixing like Fire-Lit Thicket.

For my ridiculous prediction that will probably never ever come true, Painter’s Servant could come from left field to do some damage. Yes, it’s crazy, but let’s think about this for a moment. If you name Black with Painter’s Servant, Chameleon Colossus will never, ever be blocked. You will have just turned off every Terror in the Faerie player’s hand. You could now grab virtually every card in your sideboard with Glittering Wish [not sure that one works, chief… – Craig]. You stop any Profane Command-powered alpha strikes because their Fear doesn’t work any longer. Again, a bit silly and out there, but it’s got possibilities.

I mean, you can’t tell me that this play isn’t ridiculously sexy in Extended:

Turn 1 Llanowar Elves (or Elves of Deep Shadow)
Turn 2 Painter’s Servant naming Black
Turn 3 Persecute for their entire hand, including lands

Yup, silly and somewhat far-fetched, but it remains hella sexy. I challenge you to come up with your own Painter’s Servant interactions and provide them in your feedback. There has to be some awesome color-matters cards that we have yet to utilize their full potential.

Magic Online versus WTF

Magic Online has been out for weeks, and the consensus is pretty damn negative. I gotta tell you, there is one person on this earth I’m glad I’m not right now, and that person is Worth Wollpert. This guy has to be suffering unlike anyone else, listening to thousands upon thousands of gamers lament on how ugly his new baby is. And I hate to pile on, but seriously, Magic Online 3.0 is so bad it makes me actively not tell people about it any longer.

Magic Online v2.5 was no cakewalk either, but it had a few things going for it: First, the interface. Yes, I know it was Big Stupid Buttons for the most part, but you know what? Those Big Stupid Buttons worked like a charm. Now we’re still stuck in Start Menu Hell, and this is months and months after I first complained about this navigation system. And don’t get me started on the Zoom control, located on the far right of the drop-down menus for reasons unknown, with an icon that doesn’t look anything like a Zoom icon should, if a Zoom icon could Zoom it would… or something.

After a bit of deduction and lots of discussion, I believe the culprit has been found: It appears that Magic Online v3.0 was built on top of a 3D game engine. And while Magic is 3D in real life, it’s not so 3D on a computer screen. This would account for Magic Online’s recent bouts with font issues, something that 3D game engines generally do poorly, and would also explain the Start Button-based system of navigation, another tell-tale sign of a 3D game engine.

This is why they are more than anxious to tell you about the latest 3D avatar models, but don’t actually tell you how they’re going to make playing the game easier. According to the most recent blog post over at MagicTheGathering.com, Magic Online producer Gordon Culp makes this admission:

“WotC didn’t have a core competency in developing a major online game title when this project was conceived in 2003, no argument there. We now have the right people in place to argue that we do have that core competency, but V3 is constrained by being designed and built in a time when we clearly weren’t there yet.”

So, instead of fixing these issues, and, yes, running two codebases at once, they got Version 3 out the door instead of finishing it with a better interface, less bugs, and more features. This is the deadline versus the “When it’s done” method. You can arguably see both sides of the issue, pressure from people in suits versus the whims of Magic players, but you can also see the fallout from when things get finished too quickly.

While none of the issues that plague the new version of Magic Online are earth-shattering, tiny cuts from a thousand buggy knives quickly add up to a very negative experience with the new client. I have yet to hear from a single friend of mine who likes the new client, let alone actually puts their money into it any longer.

This creates an interesting vacuum during the course of the online Morningtide release. Peter Jahn wrote about this in this article, “Will Morningtide Be The New Invasion Block?” In it he estimates the money and, most importantly to Magic Online players, the number of potential rares lost due to the version 2.5 server issues. He estimates that over a hundred thousand Morningtide rares weren’t added to the card pool due to the alternating days of drafts and premier events, along with the potential loss of over a quarter million dollars.

These amounts only multiply when you completely shut down the version 2.5 servers for a week, then version 3 doesn’t support drafting until a week and a half later. This compounds into hundreds upon thousands of Mutavaults, Bitterblossoms, Countryside Crushers, and Reveillarks that will not be in the Magic Online economy now or in the future. And with Shadowmoor debuting on Magic Online at… well… some point or other, you can almost immediately scratch off any chance of significant Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide drafting occurring.

The new client still doesn’t feature Premier Events or Leagues, more big money makers for Wizards of the Coast. I know it’s easy to sit back and criticize all of these decisions, and I understand why they chose to ‘rip off the band-aid’ and get us to Version 3. But with trading currently a nightmare of memory leaks, bots that are slow and buggy at best, and a lack of card redemption, it appears that they have set Magic Online back many, many months, and it may not recover until 2009 or even later.

Hollywood Bound

Oh yes boys and girls, it’s finally here. Pro Tour: Hollywood! Standard returns to the big stage and I am absolutely thrilled at the chance of attending. I’ve never been west of Colorado, so I get to take in both the state and the great people who will be attending.

I’m looking forward to seeing the big stars of Magic: the Chapins the Nassifs, the Wafo-Tapas and the Tsumuras. I was promised a team draft with the one and only Patrick Chapin himself, and I plan on making good on it and providing you with the results.

If there’s one thing you can look forward to, it will be you and I traversing the Hollywood craziness as it happens over the next few weeks worth of Magic Shows. I’ve also got a super-secret project with a very well-known and oft-named dropped pro that I’ve been working on that will be coming to fruition in Hollywood, and hopefully that will pan out too.

Until next time Magic players, when you’ll see the stars come out both figuratively and literally, this is Evan Erwin, tapping the cards… so you don’t have to.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Written while giggling with anticipation.

Music Credits:
Title — “Beverly Hills” by Weezer
Bumpers — “Bliss” by Muse
Credits — “California” by Rogue Wave