Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #150: Evolutions

Article number 150. A big, round, arbitrarily significant number. It’s time to get a little bit nostalgic, and look at how Magic, this website, and my writing has evolved since January 31, 2001. A lot has changed in five and a half years…

Article number 150. A big, round, arbitrarily significant number. It’s time to get a little bit nostalgic, and look at how Magic, this website, and my writing has evolved since January 31, 2001. A lot has changed in five and a half years.

Ancient History

I started writing for the Dojo, back in the day. I was paid – actual cash – to write about casual play there, but the Dojo folded at the end of 2000. It probably was because they did pay cash – in ridiculous amounts – for their content. The Ferrett, then editor of StarCityGames.com, invited me to continue writing on this site (albeit for less, and for store credit instead of cash money.) I was glad to accept, since I was already reading StarCityGames.com regularly.

My first columns were called Casual Play – the title I had used over at the Dojo. I was primarily writing about casual games, including the weekly multiplayer games my wife (Ingrid) played with another couple, John and Cathy. We built new decks, from scratch, every week, and played the same decks for hours at a time. To keep them interesting, we typically built 100+ card theme decks, with tons of random one-ofs. Consistency played second fiddle to interesting, and the decks look embarrassingly bad today.

John and Cathy live five states away now. My other casual multiplayer groups are also dispersed. My casual games happen in stores and online at the moment – mainly online.

MTGO: the Addiction

For years, I avoided online play. The main reason was that phone service to my farm stunk. Downloading the online client would, on my modem, have taken 40+ hours – and I could rarely sustain a connection for more than an hour or so. Finally, about 18 months ago, Verizon upgraded the network and I got decent modem speeds, then DSL. I started playing online, and I wrote about my initial experiences in an daily series: Diary of an Online nOOb part1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

I work for a living. I live on a farm, and commute daily. Eight to ten hours of work, two hours of commuting, and the fact that the nearest store is at least a half hour’s drive away mean that I cannot play Magic in real life all that often. However, I can play online any time. This morning, I got up at 5am, ran the dogs, played a league match and still got to work before 7:30. When I get home, probably about 9pm, I can still get in a draft, or play some Constructed.

Magic Online has been great. The only downside is that it really cuts into my real life playing. I have played far fewer FNM and store tourneys; I’m getting my fix online.

Casual Play to Yawgmoth’s Whimsy

I started writing purely about Casual Play, but I was also playing and practicing with a team of serious players at that time, and had written some serious tournament reports for the Dojo and another site. I started calling my series Yawgmoth’s Whimsy – a nod to Yawgmoth’s Will and other Yawgmoth brokenness – in summer of 2001, and by fall I was mixing in some less casual content. Over time, I have written about Vintage (then called T1), many flavors of Extended, a lot of Standard, seven block formats and a bit of Limited. Just like online – where I have drafted Champions, Mirage, Ravnica, and Coldsnap in the last month, played in several leagues, and tested decks in Standard, Ravnica block, Extended, Freeform (a little), Singleton, and Prismatic – I don’t specialize. Jack of all Magical trades, master of none, that’s me.

In the summer of 2001, I wrote about Gencon and Origins. My last article was also about Gencon. Some things never change.


Here’s a great illustration of how radically Magic has changed since 2001. In my eleventh article on the site, I wrote a mini tournament report about finishing second in a store tournament playing a T1 Replenish combo deck. I faced Sligh, Zoo (with Kird Ape), Nether Void, Necro Black Aggro, and an Ensnaring Bridge deck (don’t laugh, it was in the T4.) This was back when Oscar Tan was completing his eleventy-dozen article long series on Keeper, and when Type I was, for all practical purposes, not played anywhere.

I also wrote about playing Stacker II at Gencon that year. In the one sanctioned tourney in the Midwest that season.

I called my biggest T1 tourney report You CAN Dominate T1. It is from an era halfway between the Necro decks, above, and the modern metagame. If you are a Vintage history buff, read the article, then try guessing the date it was published.

Vintage has had some huge changes over the years. StarCityGames.com has driven much of that evolution. Back in 2000, Type I was a neglected backwater, with about the same number of people playing it at Gencon that played in “Creature Feature,” and one third of the number playing in the “Mixed Doubles” tournament. Type I tech was “available,” but at little known websites like the Mana Drain, Beyond Dominia and Morphling.de. Type I really reached the mainstream almost entirely because Oscar Tan, Stephen Menendian, Carl Winter and a few others started writing articles on StarCityGames.com. Later, the Magic Invitational featured a few rounds of T1, Wizards created the Vintage Championships, and StarCityGames created the Power Nine series, but all of that was really a reaction to the early efforts of Oscar and company. We have come a long way since You CAN play Type 1 #1.


For half a decade, this was my favorite Constructed format. I started playing Extended when Mirage and the original dual lands were legal – and the dominant decks were Maher Oath, followed shortly by Necro-powered Trix. I have played and written about my Survival decks, Enchantress, Carpe Noctrum, The Rock and more. I played at extended GPs in Las Vegas and New Orleans. At times, I have raved about the format (Don’t Worry, Just Buy the Duals; Extending Extended I; and Extending Extended II.) At times I’ve written rants ( They Kill Extended – The Bast1234s, Combo Winter – Take Two?, An Extended Fable.) I have survived two Extended rotations and a slew of bannings.

I still love Extended. I have an Extended deck or two in my bag and drag them with me whenever I go to Magic events. I’m looking forward to the next Extended PTQ season – I’ll be playing, not judging, in those PTQs.

Rants and the Biggest Change in Magic:

Personally, I think my best “rant” was An Extended Fable, where I (IMO, at least) best balanced humor and serious issues. I was a little (little? – well, maybe a lot) more strident in Heaving over Upheaval and Ranting about Blue.

Heaving over Upheaval looked at the problems caused by Blue, the control color, having a very good reset button, together with some excellent finishers that dodged Upheaval. Here’s an extract:

That’s the problem with Upheaval. In the past, the way a mid-ranged deck could beat control was to play carefully around counters – baiting with less important spells, then slipping a threat through. That’s pretty pointless with Upheaval – anything that Blue doesn’t like, it gets an opportunity to remove and counter (maybe) on the way back down.

I’m wondering if printing Upheaval and Insist in the same block was Wizards’ idea of a joke. Kind of like printing Perish and Warthog as competing color hosers in 6th edition.

In Ranting about Blue, I was responding to a comment by Randy Beuhler that Wizards had made Green “almost too good,” and that it was going to get nerfed again. This was in May of 2002, and Psychatog decks were beginning their long run – and Randy Beuhler thought Green was “too good” …?! (It was also the beginning of U/G Madness – and everyone can debate how Green that deck is, or how much Blue and the madness drove that deck. Whatever.)

The one profound part of that rant was my discussion of “investment theory.” I coined the term to indicate that you cannot afford to invest, in terms of mana and cards, in anything if the opponent can negate that investment at a significantly lower expense. My primary example was counterspell, which could negate a large creature for two mana and a card, or Chainer’s Edict, which could negate the creature for two mana and half a card (flashback.) I argued that the prevalence of several two mana counters, and cheap removal, warped the metagame. Despite printing a number of powerful creatures (Invasion block had some nice six-mana dragons, too), they were all unplayable in the Standard of the time. As evidence, I looked at the cards that were played in all the Top 64 decks at Grand Prix: Milwaukee. Here’s what got played:

  • Creatures costing no more than three mana and a card: 431 (and that didn’t count Flametongue Kavu or Braids, Cabal Minion, which are removal and creatures in one.)
  • Creatures costing more than three mana and a card per creature: 16

It wasn’t just Counterspell that was the problem. The problem was that the format had a huge number of cheap counters and removal spells. It was far too easy to play control, and control had all the cheap tools to allow it to negate all threats and still have mana left over to refill it’s hand with cheap, instant-speed card drawing. The evidence:

The Top 64 decks from the GP were composed of:

24 Psychatog decks
7 Counter Trenches
6 Opposition
6 R/U/G
4 Black Control
4 W/U/G Enforcer
2 Counter Burn
5 Others, with Blue
6 Others, no Blue

Put another way:

Blue decks: 54
Decks not running Blue: 10

And put another way:

Control decks: 60
Non-control decks: 4

I also pointed out that Blue had a ton of good mechanics, while Green had almost nothing useful. At that time, Blue even had more fatties in the main set – and Standard as a whole – than Green!

I don’t know if my articles had anything to do with it, but shortly after these articles, Wizards reworked the color wheel. Blue lost instant-speed card drawing and Counterspell. Other colors gained. What is more important, however, is that the reworked and rebalanced game allowed cards with mana costs higher than four to be played.

The game is really different now. Looking over the incredible variety of Standard decks that are winning various Nationals and online tournaments, I note two things. First, the format is incredibly diverse and interesting. Second, every one of these decks would, probably, be completely crushed by any of the Top 8 decks from GP: Milwaukee. Mind you, I haven’t completely tested all the matches, but in a Trenches versus Snakes matchup, or a Squirrel Opposition versus Solar Flare match, who would you put your money on? Unless they also run countermagic, none of the current Standard decks would stand a chance.

Be interesting to test that out, though.

Money and Magic

I have written some rants, recently, about the Standard format. Those rants are all about the cost of Magic, not the format. The format is fine; I just wish I could afford to play competitively both online and with paper. Well – okay, what I really want is to be able to play every cool deck idea both online and in paper. Why should I be realistic?

Looking back through my archives, I find it amusing that my third article for StarCityGames was about Money and Magic. I have touched on that issue repeatedly, every couple years.

Ditto the Standard is cheaper than / more expensive than Vintage.

I just keep changing sides.

All the Other Formats

I love unusual formats. It is fun, sometimes, to start deck building from scratch, without having the ability to net deck. I’ve written about a lot of alternative formats over the years. Some were true one-offs, like the Mono-Green St. Patties day multiplayer, Gencon Emperor and Creature Feature. Some were more widely played, like Online Emperor and Elder Dragon Highlander. I have also written a lot of multiplayer stuff, and at least one strange format compilation article.

And, of course I have written a ton of multiplayer and casual articles.

Set Reviews & Base Set Rotations

I have written a lot of set reviews in the past. I may do one for Time Spiral. There are three problems, however, which offset the fact that set reviews are easy meat for writers searching for topics. The problems are: 1) Everyone writes a set review. 2) Real tech and ideas can often become their own articles, so the reviews tend to say very little. 3) When you read your reviews a few years later, you kick yourself.

Soulblast is quite a card. For a measly 3RRR, you fling every creature you have at an opponent. That is quite a finisher. What is even better, in a multiplayer game, you could Radiate it. Expensive, but it could end the game with a bang. On the down side – is this the Volcanic Wind (Volcanic Win) of this block?

You kick yourself HARD.

I’m thinking I won’t do a Time Spiral review.

I have also written a few columns on what cards should go in the base set. I started these way back before Seventh Edition – before Sixth, but not on StarCityGames. I wrote a long piece about choosing cards for Eight Edition. Here’s some highlights of what I wanted to add to – and remove from – the basic set back then. Additions first:


A lot of what I suggested happened – and even some marginal stuff like Dancing Scimitar wound up in one set or another. Better yet, the stuff I argued should disappear pretty much has.

On the down side, Verdant Force was reprinted, but it is unplayable in every format (it isn’t even really a bomb in Limited.) That, however, just shows how much better creatures have gotten since that time.

I also wrote, in some piece about the cost of Magic decks, that new players needed multi-colored lands that were not rares. I even suggested reprinting the Invasion tap lands (e.g. Shivan Reef) instead of the painlands (e.g. Karplusan Forest.) If Wizards actually read and used that suggestion, when making the list for Eight Edition, I’m really sorry. My bad.

I also ranted, on occasion, about how bad the idea of letting the general public vote on cards for inclusion in the set. Look at the results of Rewind versus Dismiss or Crusade verses Glorious Anthem? Worse yet, how about Worship versus Platinum Angel? I have drafted Ninth Edition online a lot, but I’m not sure about doing so if PA is around. Worship is a pain in Limited, but at least you might be able to win with decking or life loss. When Platinum Angel hits, you either have to have something that can get rid of a 4/4 artifact creature (that may not be attacking) or you lose. (Or maybe I’m just bitter because I have a playset of Worships online, but zero PAs? We’ll see. Still, talk about an automatic first pick…)

Other Evolutions

I already talked about playing online more than in real life. I’m also judging more and playing less. I have written about judging, and how to become a judge. Besides, judging has gotten me to a couple U.S. Nationals, to Worlds and to some Pro Tours – something my playing was not really likely to accomplish.

I should also update my picture. The one that has been posted on the website is what I supplied to the Dojo, last century, and the Ferret used it here as well. Online, your picture doesn’t age. In real life, you do. Here’s a current picture.


Yes, I’m an old fart, compared to you kids. Not as old as I look, however. I have always had some gray in my hair, even in high school. It’s a family trait – on the plus side, I was never carded at any bar or store throughout my high school and college years.

If anyone cares, I was 41 when I wrote about my Old Guys and Elders theme deck, a couple days before my birthday. That was in 2002.

Getting older sucks, kids. Take it from me. Aging isn’t worth it. Just don’t do it, is all I say.

pete.jahn {at} Verizon {dt} com