Thirty Questions Answered

After a barren spell in which your questions were thin on the ground, Jeroen now finds himself struggling to keep up. Today, he tackles thirty questions posed by a single reader! All manner of Magical topics are discussed, from Ravnica Block, to Coldsnap draft, to Time Spiral and beyond. As usual, send your queries to [email protected]… he may be swamped with inquiries, but he’s eager for more.

By now you all probably know that, once again, I made Top 8 at Dutch Nationals – but that is not what I am going to talk about in this article. I have written and submitted a tournament report yesterday, and it will be up tomorrow. Read everything you want there, kids. No, this article is all about answering the questions you, the readers, have submitted at [email protected], and this one is going to be a bit special. Like I said last week, one guy submitted an email with thirty questions to me, and I am going to attempt to answer all of those in this article. With thirty questions, some will receive short answers… but I feel I would do the writer – John Hilton – an injustice by splitting them up. Here we go!

1. Imagine you have 3 decks (a combo, a control, and an aggro deck). They all have the same chance of winning against the field. Which do you play, and why?

A nice question to begin, John! I have had the best success with mid-range control decks (like the Rock), so this always leads me to decks with creatures. This means that almost automatically, unless the combo deck is completely nutso broken, I will just never ever play it. It also depends on if I feel I have a really big edge skill-wise; that’s when I will go for the control deck, as they tend to be a bit steadier in the draws. At Pro Tours, I will choose the Aggro deck.

2. What’s your favorite Dutch TV show? (See, now you can legitimately talk about it.)

Heh. To be honest, Dutch TV isn’t all that good. All I ever see is the soccer recaps and live games. This doesn’t mean I don’t watch TV shows, but the thing I usually do is download them from the Internet and watch them all at once, or buy season sets. My favorite shows are: The Sopranos, House, and Entourage.

3. I have a Ravnica Block deck (list below), I’ve been tuning it for a while, and I can’t seem to make it work well enough to run through 8-mans on MTGO. What are your thoughts on improving this deck? (And don’t say "play a different deck.")

3 Boros Signet
4 Compulsive Research
4 Electrolyze
4 Eye of the Storm
4 Gigadrowse
9 Island
2 Izzet Boilerworks
4 Izzet Signet
2 Lightning Helix
8 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Remand
4 Stitch in Time
4 Telling Time

2 Lightning Helix
4 Skyknight Legionnaire
2 Torch Drake
3 Wee Dragonauts
4 Minister of Impediments

(Go Go Transformative Sideboard!)

It seems to me like you are trying to build an Eye of the Storm deck, without wanting to use the traditional deck, which has been out there for a while. To improve this deck, I would suggest two things.

Focus more. Right now, you are trying to do too many things, and you rely on a seven-mana enchantment staying in play for a long time in order to win. Either go all-out for Eye, or remove the Eye and go U/R Control.
In case you are really set on going for the Eye of the Storm plan, take a look at the decks that have been out there using Green and Black, and have genuine “I win” cards as soon as Eye comes out. It is a very vulnerable strategy, as seven-mana enchantments are an easy target for both countermagic and Naturalize effects.

4. What would you play instead of the list I presented, if you were to play Ravnica Block?

Like I said before, my favorite deck in Ravnica Block is Rakdos, as played by my buddy Terry Soh at the team Pro Tour. I think it is by far the best deck, and has a good matchup against most of the field. To be honest though, I feel Ravnica Block is dead, and therefore a little outdated.

5. Have you ever played Pauper? If you have, what did you play? If you haven’t, why didn’t you?

I assume by “pauper” you mean “commons only.” Yes, I have played this format once, at a local store, for a special tournament. It had another limiting factor – the decks had to be Highlander. I played R/G weenie, loaded with burn. Great fun.

6. What’s your honest opinion of Coldsnap draft? Do you prefer it to RGD draft?

Right now? Yes. I still feel the format is bad, and it is very boring when everyone knows what is good or not. I am burned out on Ravnica Block, which at one point was seen as great, but now that it has been around for so long, it’s really boring. It also helps that nobody seems to know what to do in Coldsnap drafts, as I have gone 24-1 in the last couple of weeks preparing for Nationals.

7. How has MTGO affected your playing skill?

This, I’m not sure about. On the one hand, I have had the chance to get a lot more play and test time under my belt, which (in general) means my playskill should have gone up. However, because MTGO does so many things for you, and you tend to play on autopilot too much, I fear that it has not had a very positive effect on my play in general. Since MTGO hit the streets, the local Magic scene has basically died. This means I don’t play much anymore, which is probably why I haven’t been performing well at tournaments the last couple of months.

8. What’s the best thing for me to do to raise my playing skill? (Imagine, for arguments sake, that all I’m doing is reading the odd premium article.)

Stop being lazy by just reading! Get your deck out and start playing!

Seriously, there is nothing better for raising your skill level than play, play, play. Preferably with better players, but putting in the hours is the most important thing. Reading only helps you get started, and shows you tricks you might not think of, but the goal is to actually think of all that stuff by yourself!

9. If you could reprint any set, and have it be Standard legal, which set would it be and why?

It would be Apocalypse. Hands down, no question. That set has so many insanely powerful yet fun cards, as well as a great number of my personal favorites. I am sure you can guess which ones those are…

In general I still feel IPA was the best block ever made, both for Limited and Constructed… and since I had to pick one set, I chose the coolest one.

10. Which do you prefer, Limited or Constructed?

I prefer Limited. I think it requires more skill, and doesn’t leave you with bad matchups as much. I feel, in Limited, the edge for the better player is just bigger. I also like attacking with men, which happens more often in Limited.

11. Have you ever had a player get angry and abusive during a game?

Yes, but that is what happens when you are playing in high-tension situations for huge amounts of money. I tend to forgive people for what they do during those games, as I understand what they are going through. Unless, of course, it gets a little too out of hand; then we have a problem. Happily, that has never happened.

12. Have you ever got angry and abusive during a game?

I never get abusive, but I do tend to get angry once in a while. When you are playing an important game, and your draws don’t work out, or your opponent is being a d*ck, these things tend to happen. Often I solve this by putting my game face on and “tightening up.”

13. If you won the World Championships and could design a card, what would it be?

I assume you are talking about the Invitational. I have played in this event, and I have already submitted such a card then. Here it is again, in all its glory:

Rock Me Amadeus

To be honest, this wasn’t my first submission. My original had too much text. That one read something like this:

Viashivan Hellsprite
Artifact Creature – Sprite

When Viashivan Hellsprite comes into play, you may pay any amount of B, R, G, U, or W mana. For each W mana spent this way, gain 3 life. For each B mana spent this way, target player loses one life. For each R mana spent this way, deal one damage to target creature. For each G mana spent this way, add a +1/+1 counter to Viashivan Hellsprite. For each U mana spent this way, draw a card and then choose and discard a card.

Too bad. [That’s insane. – Craig.]

14. If you had the power to reprint the Power 9, would you? (They wouldn’t be Extended or Standard legal, but they would be Vintage legal)

One side of me would want to, as it would make playing Vintage a lot easier for everyone… but I feel it would be very unwise. Collectors are a big part of this game. Reprinting these cards would piss off these collectors, who would walk away from Magic, and I feel that would kill the game. That is something I would definitely not want to do.

15. Which of the five "you win" enchantments do you like the most? These are Test of Endurance, Chance Encounter, Epic Struggle, Battle of Wits, and Mortal Combat. (I’m a little worried I didn’t have to look those up…)

Battle! The others can be played in any regular deck, but the Battle of Wits requires you to really go for it all out. The fact that it has also been viable in a lot of Constructed formats, and people have actually played all these big decks in serious events, makes it the best by far. You have to play a big deck! What’s not to love?

16. Have you had a chance to look at the Time Spiral cards? What do you like or dislike so far about the set?

What I like about the set is that it brings back a lot of old favorites in new forms. I love cards like Sedge Sliver, because I loved to play with Sedge Trolls, and the chance to do that again is just a lot of fun.

What I don’t like is that it feels Wizards is out of ideas, and is just using nostalgia as a way to cover up the fact that they are making an easy set. Cards like the new Wheel of Fortune (Wheel of Fate) are not very good, and bank on the fact that they will be liked purely because they resemble old favorites. Nothing new, nothing original, just nostalgia as a base. Bah.

The other fact that I do not like the set thus far is that it feels like it is an attempt to cash out big for the last time before putting the baby called M:TG to bed. It is like when a band puts out a Greatest Hits CD: it usually means their careers are over. That’s what this set feels like to me.

17. Are you regretting asking for more questions?

Not yet, but I have about 13 more to go, so ask me again later…

No, really, I love answering readers’ questions, and I can’t have enough of these! Keep ‘em coming at [email protected].

18. What is your favorite deck of all time? What’s so great about it?

The Rock.

I played it in so many events through the years and it has always performed very well for me. I know how to play the deck, the cards are very powerful, and it can be built to withstand any metagame/deck. It also has big creatures. I like big creatures.

19. How did you get so good?

I wouldn’t ever say that I am good myself, but if I had to supply a reason it would be the fact that I get to play with some of the best players in the world on a daily basis. The things I learn from watching fellows like Rich Hoaen draft, or Jelger Wiegersma play and beat me, are so amazing. I fell that this is the reason I’ve competed at this level for so long.

20. Many people over the years have said Wizards are nerfing Blue. What do you think?

They are. But seriously, they had to.

Just look at some of the cards that Blue has got that are just so much better then anything else. In Vintage there isn’t a deck out there that doesn’t play Blue, and no deck thinks about playing Green as a main color. The premise of the game has always focused on five equal colors, so that you can build something around every color and be successful. This has been the case lately, but back in the day, Blue was just too good.

21. How do you feel about the Standard format we have at present? (Being Kamigawa block plus Ravnica block plus Ninth Edition.) [Plus Coldsnap? – Craig.]

It’s okay, but it’s not great. The good news is that so many decks are viable, and so many different colors and styles are represented, but then there is always Umezawa’s Jitte. I don’t mind the card that much, because it helps creature decks to be viable in a world of control, but the fact that every creature-based matchup is won by the person wielding the powerful equipment is pretty bad.

22. If you had the power to change one card in Standard at the moment, what one card would you change?

That would be Umezawa’s Jitte. I am not sure how to really change it so it isn’t broken anymore, but removing one of the abilities might work. For example, removing the lifegain effect it would mean some decks like Rakdos wouldn’t auto lose to it, and it would still be good against control. Just not absurd in every matchup.

23. The DCI ring you up in the middle of the night, forgetting about the time difference. They need you to ban one card from Coldsnap in all formats (reason unknown). What do you say to them them?

I tell them to leave me alone and let me sleep!

Okay, all obvious jokes aside, I do not think Coldsnap has any card of a power-level worthy of banning. If anything, most cards seem underpowered, with some exceptions. If I had to choose, I guess I would say Counterbalance, but that is only because it is so good with Sensei’s Divining Top.

24a. How can I get your job at StarCityGames.com?

Win a Pro Tour, make two other Pro Tour Top 8s, make three Grand Prix Top 8s, make four National Top 8s (including one win), have a lot of experience writing, and just plain ol’ be awesome.

24b. Would you mind much if I took your job at StarCityGames.com?

Yeah… I’m attached to it, and I enjoy it very much. But if you do all those things mentioned above, who am I to stop you?

25. What three cards are you going to miss the most when Kamigawa block rotates out of Standard?

Umezawa’s Jitte, Pithing Needle, and the big fatty dragon finishers (including Ink-Eyes and Meloku). Jitte gave you a way to make any creature deck a contender; Needle gave you an all-purpose answer to bad things for any deck; and well, the fatties were just awesome. The card I will miss least is Sensei’s Divining Top. So good, but so slow and obnoxious.

26. When you sit down at a draft, what’s the first thing you do?

Look at the people around me. You can tell a lot about what people are going to do from their facial expressions.

27. And the second?

Start chatting with them to keep me occupied. I don’t really have a set amount of things I need to do to feel good about myself, or “get in the zone,” so I do what comes naturally.

28. What’s the worst deck you’ve ever played at a competitive level? What was wrong with it?

A lot of people would answer the Rock, as that deck never got any respect from a lot of people, but I think that proved the fact that it’s good.

No, the worst deck I ever played was at Dutch Nationals 2002, where my team and I built a deck based around Bearscape. Bas Postema, one of our lead deck designers at the time, had created it a couple of days before the event, and it performed passably in testing. Since we didn’t have anything else, we all decided to play it… only to come to the conclusion that it couldn’t actually beat anything.

Most of us, if not all, scrubbed out long before the final rounds.

I tried finding a decklist, but no such luck. This deck seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Thank god.

29. You’re in the finals of a 8-4 Coldsnap draft, it’s gone 1-1, the board is locked with each of you having plenty of creatures out, you’re both at the low life total of 2, you know you’ve got a Surging Flames somewhere in your deck of about eight cards. You saw your opponent play a Surging Flames in your first game, but he’s yet to play it this game. Your opponent has a similar sized library to you. He offers splitting – you know you can win if you can draw your Surging Flames before your opponent does. Do you split?

Yes. I usually tend to split in the finals anyway, because, for me, drafting is most of the fun, if not all of it. If I split in the finals, that means I can start a new draft faster, so that is what I’ll usually do. In this case, it doesn’t seem like I can influence the situation with skill at all. If I like those odds, I’d put my packs on Red or Black in a casino. No thanks.

30. Rock, paper, or scissors?

Are you kidding me?


Always Rock.

Well played, Mr. Hilton… well played. Didn’t think I was up to the task, did you? Well, Hah!

Next week we will return to our regular programming, with just one question by each person. Keep sending them to me at [email protected].


PS: Okay… two questions per person is also fine…