The Nick Martiniuk Maneuver

Just what is the “Nick Martiniuk Maneuver”? I’ll explain.

Nick, a colorful personality and awful at the best of times, broke new ground in putrescent play when he managed to lose a match at a Prerelease by forgetting to draw nine cards with Arcanis while the game was stalemated. It was like this.


Nick (untaps…pauses….looks up at the ceiling)

So I haven’t written in a while. You probably know why – you people are, if nothing else, a smart and intuitive bunch. Despite the solemn foreknowledge that Magic Online has probably fried my brain like one of those eggs in a”Brain On Drugs” commercial, I hope you’ll swivel your chair into position, crack yourself a beverage and follow along with me. The next paragraph is probably only a couple of lines away, depending on screen resolution and editorial commentary, so it won’t take much work on your part. Just start your eyes high and work downward, like you’re ogling a supermodel.

Hold on, I’ll find the editor. He’s around here somewhere, lurking in the great white expanse between submitted marble chunk and finished sculpture.

Hundroog? (Hundroog! – The Ferrett)

There he is.

Anyhow, I’ve been playing a lot of Magic Online. Part of my joy of immersion in this digital world is that Magic Online is a whole new frontier for me. If I’m going to write about this game, I might as well go whole hog and experience it in every way possible – from the ten man multiplayer table (check) to the Pro Tour (check) to the head to head showdown with some guy named”svg_miser,” with pride and virtual wealth on the line.


I’ve been playing Magic Online for three weeks, and I want to tell you about my experiences. The last article was written with about two days worth of play under my belt, and as of this writing, I feel like I’ve drafted enough to age me ten years. My total match count is something like 240, which is more matches than played by either”Sooooooooo” or”ThatsGameBoys.” If you assume two matches per draft, that means I’ve drafted about 120 times in three weeks. That’s about six times per day. I’ve got 109 copies of Secluded Steppe in my binder. In fact, I’m writing this in between rounds of a draft.

Surprised? I thought not. This readership knows me too well.

Settle in – I’m going to describe the experience for you. Never played Magic Online? If you want to get involved, this will give you an idea of what goes on. If you do play, this will sound all too familiar. My Magic Online experience is different from that of more casual players (and yes, it still hurts to admit that I am no longer a”casual player,” truth be told), because all I do is draft, with three goals:

a) Achieve a high rating to make myself feel like a big man

b) Learn as much as possible about the format and Limited play in general, to do better in RL events

c) Never pay a dime

On point C, I’ve been less than successful – my outlay so far is about $240 Canadian, or $180 U.S. That’s only about $1.50 per draft, far better than the prices you’ll find anywhere on the physical Earth – but it is also a far cry from”free.”

Magic Online is a dangerous toilet to go flushing your money down, especially when you’ve eschewed cell phone sales to crawl back to into the comfortable womb of unemployment. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it the…

(ominous music)


(high pitched chord of organ music)

Step back, ye plumber of the depths of Magic, before you fall, kicking and screaming, into its grasping porcelain jaws, the brink from which no dash of fiduciary Comet has ever returned! These are septic shenanigans that can chew up and spit out even the hardiest of budgetary bowl-splashers.

True enough, Magic Online is addictive and expensive enough to scare people. I was talking to a friend of mine from the Toronto area, and he was telling me about how his father is always on his case about spending too much on Magic Online.

“Yeah, he pesters me day in and day out,” he said. “I try to be as frugal as possible, but nothing is good enough for the old SOB!”

I was a little skeptical and told him so.

“Come on,” I chided, “it can’t be that bad.”

His eyebrows went up immediately, and he was quick to refute me. “Oh no?” he asked with rhetorical flair. “Last night I thought he’d be proud of me – I decided to take a break from Magic Online, and instead of buying packs from the Online Store and drafting, I shut off the computer and did my homework, and saved the money for a rainy day.”

I nodded. “Sounds good – he must have been happy – that is what he’s been clamoring for you to do.”

My friend shook his head and continued, “You’d think so, but no. I came into the living room, and he was in his easy chair. I walked up in front of him, and said ‘Papa… You’ll be proud of me. Instead of playing Magic Online tonight, I skipped the draft and saved $11.87’.”

I nodded again, and prompted him to continue. “And?”

My friend’s shoulders slumped. “He got up out of his chair, smacked me on the head, and said ‘Spendthrift! Why didn’t you skip a Sealed event and save twenty bucks?'”

Anyhow, enough of that. Without further ado, let me introduce you to the sort of things I do with Magic Online. We’ll begin, as all good tours do, at the beginning.

I wake up and fire up my computer. After a suitable delay, the sort that accompanies the dust-shrouded mutterings of a near obsolete machine, my desktop wallpaper greets me – I won’t go into specifics, but I will confirm that Cao Cao may or may not be involved somehow. There is nothing that excites me so much as pretending to be an ancient Chinese man, sword optional.

Now I need some drafting music, so I fire up WinAmp. Here is my current playlist:

1. D12 w/ Eminem – Rap Game

2. Eminem – Sing For The Moment

3. Eminem – Without Me

4. Eminem – Superman

5. Eminem – Stan

6. Eminem…

Well, you get the idea. I like to get fired up when drafting (as opposed to”firing it up” while drafting, like many other Canadian players) so every one of two jams on my playlist involves”sticking a gat in they face” in”Oaktown” or somewhere nearby.

Setting the list on random play, resolute in the knowledge that the odds are also good that gardening equipment will be mentioned frequently while I’m cracking and passing (apparently 8-Mile gardeners don’t use trowels a lot – they mostly use hoes… At least, that’s what I’ve been able to gather from repeated listening sessions), I know that it’s time to load up the actual program itself and prepare for beatings.

The Magic Online experience starts with a slick video using something called the Bink player. I’ve never seen all of it – I don’t think anyone has. Actually, the introductory video has probably been clicked through by Magic players more times than the entry page to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson’s website. The real prize, the goal, is the login screen, where you make those last fateful steps from the outskirts of the digital frontier and into the game proper.

I enter my user name and password (I have been too lazy to change my password – the one I have is the default and looks more like a Mongolian curse than a password) and within moments I am greeted by the welcome sight of the”Main Room.” My current location is one of three display tabs that are available to me – it is represented by a tab called”Magic Online” and should I need to return at any time to the room I am currently in (say I’m off perusing my binder and want to head back to the Sanctioned Draft Events room to check to see if JoshR,”The Kung Fu Jew,” has demolished his first-round opponent yet), that is the tab I will click.

The other two tabs are”Deck Editor,” which I never use (it’s for Constructed only, for the most part), and”Collection,” which is where I store the trinkets I have collected in a hundred and twenty drafts. If you’re trying to play for free, you’ll visit the”Collection” tab repeatedly to organize your trade binder. After every draft, successful or not, I go through what I have drafted and put any and all rares and chase cards up for trade, in order to finance further drafting.

But wait! There’s more! On the left side of your screen, there are five buttons. The first, emblazoned with the teal imprint of a helmet, is”Settings.” This is where you go to do numerous things – let me walk you through them.

The first thing you can do is change your avatar. Now, I’m a skeleton man myself – what’s not to like? Sleek, sharp, reminiscent of the T1000… It’s a bone-thugs’ life for me – especially since I’ve always longed to remove my own head and clean it while at the table! Still, if you don’t want your digital representation to resemble Calista Flockhart in any way, there are other choices for the discerning gamer with a penchant for style-based chicanery. Let me give you the rundown:

The Blue Mage

This is some goatee-sporting buffoon in a skullcap, adorned with a collar that would be more fitting for Punchinello the clown than a mighty practitioner of the arcane arts. He spends most of his time at the table waving his hands around to manipulate a little ball of light. This guy looks suspect – this is all hearsay, but the scuttlebutt back in the avatar dressing room says that the floating blue spheres aren’t the only balls The Blue Mage manipulates when he sits down for a game.

The Centaur

The perfect choice for the player who considers himself a horse’s ass, the centaur has something strapped across his back that is either an axe or one of those big tanks of water that you drink from at the office. Another goatee aficionado, this equine grifter spends most of his time shuffling cards and alt-tabbing to”FarmGirl” websites.

The Black Mage/Knight

A player in more ways than one, this ebony-armored, chocolate-skinned avatar is always getting held down by the man. One of the better looking avatars, his actions at the draft table include floating pulses of purple light over his cards, and “raising up out’ his seat to blast fools that front.” That’s just ill. He’ll see you in the finals – better ID or you and your homies might be lying in chalk.

The Nantuko

A four-legged mantis of questionable tactics, choose this avatar if you fancy yourself a compound-eyed card shark. The mug shot looks a lot like”Greedo” from Star Wars – the guy that Lucas wanted to shoot first. This is a good avatar for female Magic players, since we all know what female mantises do after mating. “Mmm…Tastes like chicken!”

The Ernham Djinn

An ideal choice for old-school Green players, Ernie is a hulking mustachioed menace with his mind on his money and his money on his mind. He’s not my style, though – he spends most of his time pointing his finger, floating cards off the top of his deck, circling them around in the air a few times, and then putting them back on top of the deck. That’s a pretty fruity bit of cantrippery for a Green Avatar. As an Ernham Djinn, shouldn’t his animation be punching someone in the face, or being totally unplayable, or something?


If you fancy yourself the sado-masochistic second coming of Alanis Morrissette, you might like this avatar. Goggles by Trent Reznor, hair by Whoopi Goldberg, face by the bottom of my shoe. Though she dresses in fashionable basic black, it’s not enough to save what I consider a lackluster overall look.

Grinning Demon

A putrescent, malevolent denizen of the most sorrowful, bile-encrusted pits of hell, unleashed upon Magic Online to cause, and wallow in, human misery. For that reason, this is a favorite avatar of people who see fit discuss politics in the chatroom in between their sad attempts to spam the place with equally inappropriate trade requests. It’s also a popular choice for lawyers and IRS agents.

The Wood/Totem Thingy

This joyless pile of logs is a cross between a wing-chun training dummy and that giant plunger the Pentagon bought back in ’76. No redeeming qualities unless you need to whittle yourself a life counter or practice kung-fu.

The Angel

Even adorned with a metal bustier, it’s quite possible to take wing. I know a little about this avatar, since I always like to keep abreast of the current Magic Online news. I’d be a boob to ignore any new frontal developments – but sometimes I can’t find an effective way to stay up-to-date. Any su-chest-ions?

The Elf

Frail and decked out in vibrant green, the elf is the avatar you play if you want to look like Mr. Spock on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t really have much good to say about this one – the colors are overdone, the shuffling tricks are played, and the cheekbones can actually knock people over if you turn your head too fast.

The Goblin

One of the”Red” avatars, the Goblin is an orange-hued little mischief maker with a knowing smile and a nose like your bathroom faucet. A good avatar for sharks – the impatient way this avatar drums his fingers on the play surface, deck already presented, suggests a confidence and impatience that is common amongst”good” players in real life. He also has a similar complexion and hygiene habits.

The Tiger

This is not a”weretiger” or any sort of half-human hybrid, but actually a real tiger, propped up at the table on two legs, ready to sling spells like it the most normal thing in the world for a great cat to be settling in for a draft and maybe a round of stud poker. One of my favorite avatars just because it stands out in a crowd – you’ve not lived until you’ve seen your draft table fill up with card-sharking, whiskered rejects from”The Jungle Book.”

The Merfolk

The body looks like one of the sea folk, sure, but the face is clearly influenced by one of those aliens that was stalking Arnold in”Predator.” I’m sure you all remember Arnold’s assessment of what the alien looked like in that movie, and my reaction to this avatar is much the same. Actually though, I can’t help but be envious. If Disney movies have taught me nothing else (and they haven’t), it’s that merfolk have it good – they get to ride seahorse chariots and sing multi-song medleys with talking crabs, day in and day out. Meanwhile, I’m stuck up here in a world where my van is in the shop and Michael Bolton still walks a free man.

So those are the avatars. Let’s move on, shall we?

Another thing you can do in the “Settings” screen is change your password and Prize Eligibility settings. Are you in a place where you’re not eligible to receive prizes? Yes? Then make sure you don’t tell anyone, and I won’t either. To my knowledge, no one on Magic Online has, or ever will, make themselves ineligible for prizes – this screen is just a way for Wizards to cover its proverbial rear in the event of litigation. By all means though, if you want to screw yourself out of prizes, go nuts. They say victory is its own reward.

Next, you’ll probably come to the Privacy settings. These are useful for notorious players who don’t want hordes of newbies messaging them for advice – and it’s quite possible that even regular mortals might want only those on your”Buddy List” to have access to such information as your real name and email address. You can also adjust your profile here – many players use the “Comment” space to keep track of debts incurred and cards lent. Players in the clan JJJ, of which I am a member, are currently using their comment spaces to keep track of tickets and packs lent out to me during one of my many”losing streaks.”

Though I appreciate the help, I feel a little shady – I’m quite certain that if my clanmates ever saw me clicking through attack phases by accident, Vitality Charming the wrong creature and losing my guy instead, mana burning to death the turn before I was set to win the game, and so on, they wouldn’t lend me so much as a ticket.

Sound and Display settings can be tinkered with here, and each tab is self-explanatory, so I won’t go into very much detail except to say that many of the playmat”backgrounds” feature some very nice art and provide the perfect backdrop to any losing streak. The beautiful tones and themes available insulate the soul against the angst that comes with a six draft run of cold cards!

The most important thing you can do in the “Settings” section is to set your stops and options. Without the correct stops, all sorts of unpleasant things will happen to you, not the least of which will be a complete inability to hold your opponent up when you need to announce an effect with damage on the stack, or tap attackers before combat. Before setting my stops correctly, I was losing left and right to dumb errors of this kind, and punctuating those losses, more often than not, with bursts of language ranging from objectionable to virulent.

My stops:

My Turn – Main Phase Pre-Combat (for casting creatures and sorceries)

My Turn – Declare Blockers Step (for effects after blockers have been declared by my opponent)

My Turn – Combat Damage Step (for effects after combat damage is on the stack)

My Turn – Main Phase Post-Combat (for casting creatures and sorceries after combat)

Other Players’ Turns – Beginning Of Combat (this is the step on the opposing turn where you use Whipcorder, Choking Tethers, etc.)

Other Players’ Turns – Declare Attackers Step (the step after attackers have been declared but before blockers are to be declared – this is the last chance to create surprise blockers before the”Declare Blockers” step – the lack of this stop lost me numerous games before I realized I needed to have it in place)

Other Players’ Turns – Declare Blockers Step (the same step as on my own turn, and important for the same reason)

Other Players’ Turns – Combat Damage Step (for effects with damage on the stack)

Other Players’ Turns – End Of Turn Step (for effects”at end of turn”, like cycling and so on – despite the fact that I have this stop, I often click through it like a moron)

There are some other options available, too – Magic Online can save you from yourself a lot of times with helpful little”memory boosters” like “Always choose to draw cards when you control a card that makes card drawing optional.” This prevents cobwebs from gathering on such cards as Wirewood Savage, an elf that, under the control of a forgetful user in cardboard Magic, provides equal levels of card advantage and embarrassment as you forget to draw and your friends point and laugh at you. In Sarnia, whenever a player is terrible enough to forget to draw from a Savage, someone watching the game is liable to pick up the card and”blow the cobwebs” off of it, in a mockery of the suspect play abilities on display.

Another favorite of Sarnia players is the “Nick Martiniuk Maneuver”, and sadly, Magic Online doesn’t prevent this one. If anything, it amplifies the trouble.

Just what is the “Nick Martiniuk Maneuver”? I’ll explain.

Nick, a colorful personality and awful at the best of times, broke new ground in putrescent play when he managed to lose a match at a Prerelease by forgetting to draw nine cards with Arcanis while the game was stalemated.

It was like this.


Nick (untaps…pauses….looks up at the ceiling) “FUUUUUU^%*&^K!”

It’s important to note that the curse word in question was stretched out over at least three or four seconds of otherwise silent air.

(Nick takes his turn, passes the turn.)

Opponent takes his turn.


Nick (untaps AGAIN, pauses, looks up at the ceiling…)


Once again, three or four seconds – one long virtuoso performance of Anglo-Saxon opera.

And he did it three times, and lost the game! We were falling over laughing. Of course, when it happens to you, it isn’t as funny – so you have to watch yourself in Magic Online. All you have to do to pass priority is click”OK” – and most people don’t even do that, they just hit F2, which is the keyboard shortcut. Many times, I’ve found myself looking at the ceiling and barraging the light fixture with a torrent of effwords, in a miniature home version of Nick’s favorite prerelease game.

Geordie, going first, keeps two-land hand with Primoc Escapee and many morphs.

Two turns go by uneventfully, Geordie draws no more land – opponent passes priority at the end of his second turn.

Geordie (untaps…pauses…): “FUUUUUUUU#^%$##%^#$K!!!”

Geordie, of course, doesn’t draw his 3rd land – the land he needed to cycle Primoc Escapee in order to get. It shows up next turn when Geordie has already been elected Chairman of the Slowville Bad Tempo Committee. As a result, Geordie loses to a guy playing Earthblighter. Subsequently, Geordie goes to find a bridge for the purposes of jumping off of it.

So anyhow, those are the settings. Don’t underestimate the importance of this section – before you go anywhere, you want to have all your ducks in a row, right? Properly arranged, Magic Online becomes less an alien interface and more a trusted friend that brings you hours of good times…when you’re not clicking through your attack phase when your opponent is at three life and you have Jareth on the table.

Hope you enjoyed Part 1! Next time, we’ll take a look around the Hall Of Champions, explore the play rooms (“Miser Livingstone, I presume?”, and take a peek at what traders do all day!

Keep it tight.

Geordie Tait

[email protected]

FP_GLyM on Magic Online