The Stories We Tell In Magic

Bennie Smith talks about the philosophy of building decks, making plays, and handling Magic games in a style that will give you and your opponent something to remember!

Last weekend was pretty sweet. It kicked off Friday when my company had an Employee Appreciation Day that started with breakfast, then after working the
morning we had kind words from our CEO, some nice give-aways, all culminating in a catered BBQ lunch and the afternoon off. I debated what to do with my
bonus time off considering actual free time is such a rarity in my life. I knew I needed to get a haircut at some point over the weekend because it was
constantly getting in my eyes and driving me crazy. The lawn needed cutting. I could go to FNM several hours early and pick up some games of Commander. Was
there a movie I wanted to go see?

The answer to that question was a resounding yes-Mad Max: Fury Road had some really good buzz going into its release weekend, and I was a huge fan of the
original trilogy, especially The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2). By the trailers I’d seen, Fury Road had a lot of similarities to The Road Warrior story-wise,
but with a $150 million budget and 2015 SFX compared to $4.5 million and 1981 SFX. And I can say wow-the money and technological advances are fully
displayed front and center, making the film a true spectacle to watch.

I’d heard that the movie was a two hour chase scene, and that’s not far from the truth. There is some down time in the beginning setting up our world and
the inciting incident for the plot, a pause in the action about halfway through, and a short and relatively quiet denouement at the end to conclude our
adventure. Besides that though, we are strapped in for a perpetual furious ride on wildly modified motor vehicles traveling at breakneck speeds with actors
and stunt doubles doing battle and breathtaking stunts.

What really makes this movie so impressive though is that there’s actually story here. Somehow, amidst the engines’ roar, explosions, gun fire, and
hand-to-hand combat we get to know a lot of the characters involved, both heroes and villains, and we care about what happens to them. The characters and
their story draw us in and hook us, and so the visual and visceral spectacle of the film pounds us even further because we get so invested in what happens
next, and what happens next, and what happens next. Also there are actually a bunch of women characters that are more than just victims or objects. In
fact, it’s hard to argue that the actual protagonist hero of the movie isn’t the woman played by Charlize Theron rather than the titular Max. I’ve heard
this movie referred to as the “first feminist action blockbuster” and damned if that isn’t a great description for it, but mostly because it’s not
exploitative of women nor is it celebratory machismo. It’s about people wrapped up in a crazy, break-neck chase across a richly developed
post-apocalyptic wasteland.

So after getting blown away by one of the best action movies – best movies, really – I’ve seen in a while, I go get my haircut and babble and gush to my
barber how amazing the movie was. Not long after that I’m heading up to Collector’s Heaven for some Friday Night Magic, Standard-style.

Wheels Within Wheels

So what story have I been telling in Standard? I think the inciting incident was giving Villainous Wealth Devotion a try when Khans of Tarkir came
out. This was one of several brews I wanted to try out, and my expectation was to bounce from deck to deck until I found one that seemed really
competitive. Surprisingly, it turned out the first brew I tried was really good in a metagame that quickly coalesced around midrange strategies that
featured Siege Rhino or Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. When an opponent’s deck is chock full of good-stuff spells and I’m able to cast five or six of them off just
one of my cards, I won a lot of those games.

Eventually though, the metagame started shifting and my win percentages started dropping. “Kill every creature” strategies started cropping up, which is
punishing to what a Devotion deck is trying to do. I started itching to try something new, and the release of Dragons of Tarkir was the perfect
opportunity to throw in a major plot twist. The cards that really intrigued me were Dromoka’s Command, Deathmist Raptor, and eventually Den Protectors, so
after a few missteps I settled on the G/W Megamorph Mastery of the Unseen deck that carried me to the Top 8 at Virginia State Champs. I still held on to my
Devotion crutch with that deck though, but then I saw the rise of Esper Dragons, which inspired the Chapin/Flores Blue Dragons deck, and that deck inspired
me to build a similar Dragon-heavy concept. Instead of a control shell I went with base green and Megamorph as its core, and the deck turned out pretty
decent (but still rather rough). It had a lot of power, but I was unhappy with its lack of interaction with my opponent. I wanted more utility, more
removal, and so I set aside the concept. Turns out I may have been a bit hasty since last weekend, Makihito Mihara and Yuuya Watanabe got 10th and 11th
place at the Grand Prix in Shanghai running pretty much a slightly more evolved version of my deck (see Dragon Megamorph) that did have interactive spells. Nevertheless, I
moved on from that plot point… I was reading the metagame tea leaves, trying to read the signs. What story were the decks that were rising in the metagame
telling me?

Time is often referred to as a wheel, with the same things happening over and over again. The cast of characters may change, but the song remains the same.
I was seeing a lot of Abzan decks and a lot of green-based midrange decks rising to the top. Yes, there were scary-fast aggressive decks, and yes, there
were control decks, but if you played the odds, it was a pretty good bet that any random opponent was going to play a green-based deck.

And what’s good against green-based decks?

Here’s what I sleeved up for Friday Night Magic:

In a cruel twist of plot worthy of G. R. R. Martin, the whole rationale for playing this deck could only mean that I didn’t face a single green deck in the
four rounds of FNM. Nevertheless, I marched to a 3-0 start, defeating U/B Control (1-0), R/W Tokens (2-0), and Jeskai Tokens (2-1). I even got a Villainous
Wealth where X=11 in the first game against Jeskai Tokens, netting (among other things) two Treasure Cruises. Yeah, that felt pretty good!

For the final match I was paired against a Jeskai deck that had a lot of good creatures (Goblin Rabblemaster, Mantis Rider, Soulfire Grandmaster, Seeker of
the Way), a bunch of burn, and Dig Through Time. For the first game I had to double mulligan on the play and never drew more than the two lands in my
opening hand. For the second game I had to mulligan on the play, stalled on lands a bit early, but managed to claw my way back into the game. My opponent
had climbed up to 32 life, and I’d managed to knock that down to eleven and was poised to kill him the following turn. However, I was at a tenuous three
life for a while and knew it was only a matter of time before my opponent ripped some burn. He drew a card… and laughed. Then cast Dig Through Time. Oh
man, I knew I was toast as he started to draw the cards… about halfway through the draw he started laughing, showing the cards to a friend who was watching
out match. On the seventh card he laughed some more, then showed me that the first six cards were lands… and the seventh card was a Stoke the Flames. He
came so close to completely whiffing on the Dig it just made for an epic end to a valiant struggle against the odds. I kinda felt like our hero at the end
of the first Rocky movie: while I didn’t win the fight, I came away with a heckuva story.

I was incredibly happy with the copies of Duress in the sideboard. They came in against Control, and they came in against the token decks. Basically I’d
bring them in against any non-green deck, though I’m not sure they were all that great against the non-token Jeskai deck. Still, the card covers a lot of
metagame ground for just four sideboard slots, and I was very happy to have them, especially with Den Protectors to get them back again. I was also happy
to rock a playset of Disciples against the more aggressive decks, especially since the 3/3 creature so often dies it’s easy to fetch back with Den
Protector for more lifegain.

Nissa is there to torment Control decks, and Crux of Fate is in there for Dragon decks if I run across them. And the fourth Villainous Wealth shows up to
assassinate any green deck I run across…

From Mad Men to Mad Max

In a funky cool coincidence it was neat that I started my weekend Friday watching one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long while and concluded my weekend
Sunday watching the series finale of one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen, and both had “Mad” in their names. Mad Men is an example of some seriously
top-notch storytelling, and I was incredibly sad that the story was coming to an end while also being gratified that it was ending while it was still near
its peak. I am going to really miss Peggy, Joan, Roger, Sally and, of course, the severely screwed up and damaged Don Draper. I’m going to miss the twists
and turns their lives take and the relationships that have evolved between them. I really enjoyed many moments in the finale, but I’m not entirely sure how
I feel about the episode as a whole. It was certainly not one of Mad Men’s best episodes, but that’s an extremely high bar to measure it against-that’s
like saying a new planeswalker is no Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I want to watch it again so I can figure out where it lands somewhere between a B and an A-.
Overall I’d say it was a solid ending to a really fantastic show. If you never got around to watching it, let me assure you that Matt Weiner stuck the
ending pretty well, and you’re in for a real treat once you get a chance to savor seven seasons of most excellent television.

The Gentleman’s Format

Mondays are the kind of days that make you check your calendar to see what’s coming up next weekend. This Monday I was checking and realized that there was
a local fifteen-proxy Vintage tournament that I actually might be able to attend. Some of my local friends and Vintage enthusiasts have been dying to get
me to play The Gentleman’s Format for years, but each time it’s been scheduled, it either hits on the weekends I have my kids or conflicts with something
else going on. Like, it’s one of those “bad timing” things that have gone on so long it’s ridiculous, but suddenly it looks like my Vintage drought-this
long, empty wasteland-might be coming to an end.

So what to play? The last time I played Vintage I’d acquired my fourth Bazaar of Baghdad and finally built an Ichorid deck I was excited to play. I got so
thoroughly destroyed every single round of the tournament that immediately afterwards in disgust I gave the Bazaars to a friend of mine to sell for me on
Ebay. They sold for a decent amount a few weeks before Ravnica: City of Guilds released and the dredge mechanic was unleashed on
the world.

Yeah, I sorta regret that decision now. When you’ve played Magic long enough, everyone gets stories like these.

When one friend noticed I’d checked “going” in the Facebook event, he emailed me a list he thought I might be interested in. Since I’ve played Maverick and
Abzan decks in Legacy, he knew I’d have a lot of these cards anyway, all I’d need to proxy was the power.

His original list had three copies of Stony Silence, but I had a hard time swallowing the chance of playing a Stony Silence early and then drawing some
Moxen later as blanks. I know I need some more artifact hate to battle the Workshop decks. Does anyone have any ideas? Is Reclamation Sage really terrible?

And what’s the story on those Porcelain Legionnaires? I’m in a desert low on fuel or stranded on a hippie commune on that one.

I had an urge to port my Modern Zur the Enchanter/Doran, the Siege Tower deck over to Vintage. When I first played a Doran deck it was in the old Extended,
and I used Tireless Tribe to combo kill my opponent by discarding cards to deal an extra four points of damager per. In Vintage, I could put the band back
together along with new lead singer Zur the Enchanter. Ancestral Recall and Time Twister can keep my hand flush! Maybe run some Fires of Yavimaya to speed
things up?

I pitched the idea to my Vintage friend in an email, and I imagine he must have put his face in his hands Jean-Luc Picard-style. His reply was much less
enthusiastic than I was.

Which deck is better? Pretty sure we all know the answer to that one.

But which one would tell the better stories?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visonary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)