This weekend, a friend of mine invited me over to help her proofread her doctoral thesis. Was it because she thought I was a good writer? No. Was it because I am, technically, the editor-in-chief of a fairly successful site that publishes over a thousand articles every year? No.
“It’s because you always catch the misspellings on the menus,” she informed me.
This is true. Whenever I go out to dinner, I’m the one who notices that the salmon has a “white wne” sauce, and catches the grammatical errors in the description of the steak tartare. In fact, I often bitch about it to the waiter, who stands there baffled as I have to explain why this is the wrong tense to use when describing the zippiness of a martini. Yet I hadn’t really thought of this as my greatest technical accomplishment until, well, it’s the reason I got tagged.
I arrived at my friend’s house, red pen in hand, only to discover that the final version of her doctoral thesis was the equivalent of an Amish barn raising; no less than five people were sitting around the dining room table, each with a different-colored pen, passing around the same page from person to person so that five sets of eyes would scour the page for any hints of typos, unclear sentences, or deviations from her mentor’s style book.
Despite the fact that this was draft number seven — as in, it had been sent back by her professor for corrections seven times before we laid eyes upon it – we still found a surprising number of glitches. There were a handful of typos, but the fun thing was discovering the grammar errors.
See, English teachers will tell you that grammar is a set of firm rules, like traffic laws or coding software…. But it isn’t. Grammar is a loose set of constructions that can vary dramatically depending on who’s in charge. Basically, Grammar is what looks best to you.
Take a long sentence sans punctuation marks, with multiple clauses in it. Then ask seven different English professors where the commas go in this sentence, and whether it should maybe have a semicolon in it.
Fistfights will break out. Seriously. There are a few things that are flat-out wrong, of course, but most of grammar is making sure it reads well.
“But Ferrett,” you ask. “What does this have to do with Magic?” And the answer is that my friend’s paper put the lie to a commonly-held myth about StarCityGames.com: Namely, that you really do need to know Magic to edit it.
Back when I was the daily editor (as Craig Stevenson is now), I occasionally complained about being overworked. And my friends offered to help.
“Nah,” said I. “You don’t know Magic.”
“But I know English well,” they’d retort. “I can help you. How difficult could it be?”
Yet when I looked at my friend’s paper, I got the answer. It was a complex study of birthing patterns, chock-a-block with dense statistical analyses, and I looked at sentences that were technically composed of English words but I had no frickin’ idea what any of it meant. I could take a stab at shuffling some words about…. But given that I didn’t know the inherent meaning that this sentence was trying to convey, half the time I actually destroyed the content.
So I got a firm answer: Can you edit this site without knowing Magic? No. Not in a million goddanged years.
You may note that today’s article is not about Coldsnap. There are two reasons for that:
First, I was off helping my friend on Saturday, when I could have been participating in the release tournament. I assure you, I didn’t want to be helping my friend through a boring and tedious group proofreading, but occasionally you gotta lend a hand to your buds.
But second, and more importantly, I would have participated in a second prerelease event, which isn’t really helpful. I don’t mind analyzing Sealed decks when they’re a tournament format, but given that the only way anyone will play Coldsnap professionally is in a draft on the second day of a Grand Prix, I don’t see my noodling about with a five-pack special as being relevant in the least.
Thus, Ravnica again. But don’t worry, there will be Coldsnap strategy coming up… Just not by me. I’ll be going on vacation for three weeks as I visit Europe with my wife, and so I have a special guest columnist to fill in. Who will it be? Oh, the suspense! But you’ll have to wait.
So what cards did I crack this time around?
- 1 Snapping Drake
- 1 Barbarian Riftcutter
- 1 Boros Swiftblade
- 1 Drake Familiar
- 1 Gate Hound
- 1 Golgari Brownscale
- 1 Grozoth
- 1 Indentured Oaf
- 1 Lurking Informant
- 1 Nightguard Patrol
- 1 Nullstone Gargoyle
- 1 Phytohydra
- 1 Roofstalker Wight
- 1 Sewerdreg
- 1 Sparkmage Apprentice
- 1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant
- 1 Tattered Drake
- 1 Thundersong Trumpeter
- 1 Vedalken Dismisser
- 1 Veteran Armorer
- 1 Viashino Fangtail
- 1 Viashino Slasher
- 1 Wizened Snitches
- 1 Burning-Tree Bloodscale
- 1 Dryad Sophisticate
- 1 Ghor-Clan Savage
- 1 Giant Solifuge
- 1 Shrieking Grotesque
- 1 Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
- 1 Smogsteed Rider
- 1 Steamcore Weird
- 1 Coiling Oracle
- 1 Minister of Impediments
- 1 Sandstorm Eidolon
- 1 Sky Hussar
- 1 Soulsworn Jury
- 1 Stalking Vengeance
- 1 Utvara Scalper
- 1 Seal of Doom
- 1 Cremate
- 1 Chant of Vitu-Ghazi
- 1 Clinging Darkness
- 1 Consult the Necrosages
- 1 Faith's Fetters
- 1 Flight of Fancy
- 1 Gather Courage
- 1 Golgari Signet
- 1 Incite Hysteria
- 1 Leave No Trace
- 1 Nightmare Void
- 1 Peregrine Mask
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Seeds of Strength
- 1 Shred Memory
- 1 Stasis Cell
- 1 Strands of Undeath
- 1 Suppression Field
- 1 Surge of Zeal
- 1 Castigate
- 1 Gigadrowse
- 1 Gruul Signet
- 1 Guardian's Magemark
- 1 Necromancer's Magemark
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Brain Pry
- 1 Fertile Imagination
- 1 Overrule
- 1 Plumes of Peace
- 1 Steeling Stance
- 1 Vision Skeins
Hmm. No obvious bombs, which is a shame. I mean, Stalking Vengeance is nice, but you really need to be in heavy Red already to use it. Phytohydra is rather weak for its cost. Grozoth is gigantamous, but really pricey, as is Nullstone Gargoyle (though maybe I could use one to tutor for the other… Hmmm). The only really decent Sealed one is the Giant Solifuge, but even then it’s fragile.
So once again, we must go to the colors! The colors, man!
“Wait a minute, Ferrett,” you say. “When the Dissension Prerelease was out, you were all down on the Jury. And now it’s a solid playable?”
Yeah. Experience has taught me that it’s a nice bonus card — the three-mana cost makes it a great defensive drop (particularly when it can kill x/1s), and the “counter a creature” ability can really swing a game.
See, the thing about the Jury is that you don’t want to keep mana open for it in the early game… Except that sometimes, you do. Because what happens a lot in Ravnica is that the first three turns are spent setting up the mana — bounceland, Signet, creature, go. And if someone mulligans to six on the play, what often happens is that their first four cards go to mana and then the Jury’s basically neutralizing half their hand.
It’s not totally insane, but it’s more useful than you’d think in the early game, and obviously a definite staller in the late game. The trick is, of course, knowing what to let through and what to counter, but that’s something you can only learn through playing control decks.
In any case, this is decent White — not terribly deep, but a tight defensive package that’s going to make it hard to get through. We can hope for a nice little Dimir deck, since this would be perfect for a stall….
That said, if we do go the W/U/x package, we’re a little low on solid creatures. I’ve actually seen the Grozoth/Nullstone Gargoyle trick work, but it’s really hard on the mana and not nearly as effective as you’d hope. That said, we do have a very defensive deck, and those are two great finishers.
I dislike Stasis Cell. It has its place, but it’s too expensive for what it does.
This Black’s a little better than it looks; Smogsteed Rider is decent, if hard on the mana, and Roofstalker Wight’s a nice little early-game drop to get in a few points of damage before being frittered away in a chump block.
Plus, I likes me some removal. But we shall see. What’s Red got?
Ugh. That’s a lot of Red, but not a whole lot of quality. And what there is of quality, in at least two cases, requires a double-Red to get working. It could work, but without more significant removal, I’m loathe to go into the Land Of Fragile Creatures. Maybe the Green and Gold will save us!
Maybe the Gold will save us!
And lo! The Gold has rewarded us! Praise the Lord!
Seriously, I was tempted to go into Blue/White beforehand, and the cards are practically shoving me there, with a combination of tasty gold cards (the magnificent Sky Hussar and the conditionally-great Overrule), and excellent blended cards (Minister of Impediments, Lurking Informant). Thus, we’re going W/U/b.
…or are we? The problem is that outside of the Hussar, we don’t have a single creature with a power greater than four. This is, to put it nicely, a deck full of absolute wusses. We can’t win in combat once the big guns start popping out, which is a huge problem in Ravnica.
The trick is, of course, to build this like a control deck.
I didn’t think of it as a control deck until my third winning match, when my opponent said, “Nice control deck,” at which point I realized that it totally was. I was stalling until I could get to the late game, where I could plop down a big guy and finish off with it. Here, check it out.
1 Clinging Darkness
1 Consult the Necrosages
1 Drake Familiar
1 Faith’s Fetters
1 Flight of Fancy
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Golgari Signet
1 Lurking Informant
1 Nightguard Patrol
1 Orzhova, the Church of Deals
1 Roofstalker Wight
1 Seal of Doom
1 Shrieking Grotesque
1 Smogsteed Rider
1 Snapping Drake
1 Strands of Undeath
1 Tattered Drake
1 Vedalken Dismisser
1 Veteran Armorer
1 Azorius Signet
1 Minister of Impediments
1 Sky Hussar
1 Soulsworn Jury
1 Steeling Stance
The first thing you should notice about this deck is the overkill on discard: you get nailed by the Gargoyle, you get zapped by the Strands of Undeath, and since I have enough card drawing and removal here, the Consult the Necrosages is almost going to be, “You discard two.” In the Ravnica format, even with the dredge mechanic mixed up in there, early-game discard is often brutal…. Especially when I can pull off my favorite trick of “Cast Strands with a mana open to regenerate, next turn Drake Familiar and re-Strands. What did you have on the board? Well, that’s pretty much all you’re gonna have.”
(In a pinch, you can — and I have — cast it on an opponent’s creature to drop him two cards in the hopes of fetching it back later.)
Speaking of Drake Familiar, let’s talk about the roles he serves here. He’s basically a 187 machine, sending the Flight of Fancies and the Strands and the Faith’s Fetters back to be used on more useful targets, netting you new stuff along the way. The great thing about the Familiar in this deck is that you can Faith’s Fetters an early target, causing your opponent to mark you as a “chump,” and then you bounce it back when the real threat hits play, leaving you up eight life and with the biggest target neutralized. (Just watch out for Fiery Conclusion, Rusalkas, and Rotwurm.)
More importantly, you have a lot of removal here to stall your opponent. Tap the guys, cripple ‘em with a Clinging Darkness, stall them with a Stranded creature… There are a lot of ways to pull through into the late game, while you’re marking off their cards with discard effects. And Overrule is insanely great in this deck, since basically you’re going to go down to eight in almost every game, but they cast what they hope is their finisher and then you gain five life.
And the lovely thing is that if you get into a stall, Orzhova, Church of Deals will ensure that you can buy time while your opponent digs for an answer.
You can’t play it like a regular deck — you really do have to look at this as, “I’m working my way up to Hussar,” and that’s what you do. You stall the game until you can work through with Hussar, Sewerdreg, some generic plinker (Roofstalker Wight gone all the way more than once, which I imagine is quite embarrassing to lose to), or the Church.
I went 4-1 with this deck the first week I played it… And then, astonishingly, I went 3-2 in the second week in the league, when everyone else had added a full booster pack to their deck but I was too cheap to commit. In other words, I faced far more powerful decks and won again. And I’ve won a fair amount just playing for fun.
I should add that the first week’s deck had the Nullstone Gargoyle in it, which won me a game or two. But most of the time, I drew it in my opening hand, and it sat there forever, and by the time it came out I was either winning or losing so badly that the Gargoyle didn’t matter. There are a couple of decks this absolutely demolishes — it neuters most Black- and Red-based decks — but on the whole, it’s a sideboard card thanks to its colossal cost.
The Best Play Of The Week
I was losing, and losing badly with my control deck. I had stalled as much as I could, but my opponent had a Black/Red/Green deck that was just hammering me. I’d done what I could, but he’d pounded me down to seven life and destroyed all of my other creatures.
Except at the end of my turn, he did the unthinkable.
Except that at the end of my turn, he sacrificed his other dork to do one point of damage, then he sacrificed the Rotwurm to do another point of damage, and then he cast his last spell in hand — Cackling Flames — to do five to me.
And with three mana available, I cast Overrule for one.
To my opponent’s credit, he had anticipated Overrule, but for some reason thought it cost three mana. But he had just cleared his entire board, and I was now at a tenuous one life with an active Sky Hussar on the board. I dropped him in four turns as he drew nothing of interest, going up one life each turn thanks to the Church.
It was a misplay, of course. He got eager. But that was the greatest Overrule ever.
To be fair, however, I feel I should discuss the next match I played, in which I cast a Shrieking Gargoyle on turn 3 to match my opponent’s Stinkweed Imp, and then I accidentally Faith’s Fettered my own Gargoyle. The sad thing is, I almost won that game, which makes my dumbassery even harder to take. (Hint: Should you be so stupid, Vedalken Dismisser can help you out when you desperately need fliers, but it’s really sad to watch it happen.)
The Weekly Plug Bug
Today’s Home on the Strange is, as far as I’m concerned, the funniest thing we’ve ever done. It deals with color, and that’s all I’m saying.
I’m not saying it’s the funniest thing you’ll ever see. But in terms of self-amusement, it made me giggle high and long. It might raise a chuckle on your end, or maybe you just won’t have the same problems with women that I do. You never know.