Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #235 – Fearmongering

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Thursday, July 17th – Life’s been a little busy lately, and I was not going to write an article this week. The prerelease was – from my perspective – sort of blah. Then I read both Chatter’s article this week, and the responses. Some people are blathering, and I need to comment. I’ll also sprinkle in a few of the dumb plays I saw last weekend.

Life’s been a little busy lately, and I was not going to write an article this week. The prerelease was — from my perspective — sort of blah. Then I read both Chatter’s article this week, and the responses. Some people are blathering, and I need to comment. I’ll also sprinkle in a few of the dumb plays I saw last weekend.

In some respect, this article can be summed up by this comic, from XKCD.


I know that arguing over various issues on the Web is about as productive and useful as shoveling water uphill, but sometimes you just can’t help it.

I’m worse than most. I’m a skeptic. People who make a living by lying about what they do bug the hell out of me. I attended the first World Skeptic’s conference years ago. I have met James Randi. I subscribe to Skeptical Inquirer, and know how to bend spoons and so forth. I used to do a pretty good cold read (the standard technique for psychics).

I even started my own pseudo-science, once upon a time. I combined photographic resonance (the concept that pictures are psychically linked to their subjects), reflexology (the concept that parts of your feet are linked to part of the body, and manipulating the heel, for example, can cure liver cancer), and magnet therapy (applying magnets to the body to cure disease.) My shtick was simple: I can cure anything by putting magnets on photographs of your feet.

True? Well — not entirely. According to one Reflexology chart, the heel is actually associated with the buttocks. You need to massage the bottom of the instep to cure liver problems.

My concept is also not farfetched enough. Some *sshole in Russia was actually making a living selling exactly that idea: send him money and a photo of your feet and he’ll cure your diseases with magnets.

This sort of thing really pisses me off. It’s not that he stole my idea (and is not paying royalties, heh) — it’s that he is probably killing people. People who might be cured by a real doctor are sending their money to this jackass instead. What’s worse is that con artists like this typically clear a bunch of bucks. It’s a great living, if you can stomach the hypocrisy.

On the plus side, I know that Magic is not dying. I’ve got a picture of Richard Garfield’s feet stuck to my refrigerator with strategically placed magnets. It’s perfect — except that the magnet controlling the Faeries problem appears to have slipped.

So, with that introduction, let’s look at a few comments that came up this weekend.

Prereleases are Ending

No, not quite. As part of its “acquisition” strategy, Magic is getting more support out to the lower level stores and public venues. In the past, Organized Play was aimed primarily at the Pro Tours, qualifiers and premier events. Now Wizards wants to balance that, and provide relatively more support to the grass roots level — the level that actually creates the bulk of all new Magic players.

Starting with Shards, Wizards will allow those stores to run prereleases, as well. That does not mean that the era of the big prerelease is over. The premier level TOs will still run bigger and better release events.

Here’s how I understand the difference (and please understand that I am getting most of this second hand).

Local stores will be allowed to run a prerelease pod, provided they have run at least four events (probably sanctioned, but at least registered and reported) in the last year, involving at least 30 unique players. If they do, they will be allowed to run a prerelease pod. That probably means one sealed event, and probably means that prerelease foils will probably be limited to 32 per store, first come, first served. Alternatively, prerelease foils might be mailed out later, like player rewards. (Personally, I think that later option stinks — players like getting their foils).

Premier TOs, on the other hand, will still be able to run midnight events, Two-Headed Giant events, multiple pods, win-a-box events, drafts and open dueling (playing with precons) In short, all the good things that make a big prerelease a really fun event will still be available only to the Premier TOs, so their events will still provide more value. With any luck, the local store events will attract those people who can’t, or won’t, travel to a big prerelease, while the big events will still attract most of the same people they get now.

At least, I hope so.

Players understand the Power of Scutts

I played in the first set of pods. In three different games, an opponent dropped color-pump enchantments on a dude, then attacked when I had an active Scuttlemutt. It happens all the time. I am also having a very good streak drafting on MTGO, because I pick Scutts highly.

Him: Cast Shield of the Oversold targeting Medicine Runner, attack with my 4/3 indestructible flier.
Me: Make Medicine Runner Blue, block with Sootwalkers.
Him: Crap!

I even had a player drop double enchantments on his 2/1, while I had a Duergar Assailant on the table. Now in that case, I did not have Scuttlemutt in play, but I did have a Wisps in hand.

Color is one of the big themes of the set. Scutts changes colors, but somehow people don’t even remember that ability.

Drafting SSE at the Prerelease Sucks

Okay, this is pretty much true. People coming to the prerelease want to open the new cards. They want to draft more of them. Players generally prefer drafting more new stuff, and less old stuff.

All true.

Now, drafting triple new set is not always a good idea. I learned that way back in the Urza’s Destiny release. Destiny was full of broken artifacts and enchantments — and has pretty much zero ways of getting rid of them. Way too often, triple small set drafts have an oversupply of something, and not enough answers to that thing. You want to be able to draft the answers, even if they are only around in the first set.

Drafts with one pack of the base set and two packs of the new set, though, are just about perfect.

We can’t have them anymore. That was not the TOs’ decision — it was Wizards. And it was made to defend the small stores.

The stores that sell Magic make a huge chunk of their money selling packs right after the new set comes out. They sell to players who want to play with the new cards. However, when players have gotten a lot of their cards at the prerelease, sales drop.

As I understand it, the retailers argued that having people draft EEE is like selling packs in advance — and it hurts their sales. Wizards listened, and decreed that prerelease drafts had to be SSE, not EEE.

One clear change — the number of drafts was down. Players were not happy with the change. Still, the retailers have a point, and I don’t know that I would expect this to change back, at least, not until the economy gets better.

Turnout was down / bad / stunk

A classic logical fallacy is to assume that your experiences are universally true. Personally, I attended the Madison Prerelease, and I expected to judge. However, it was a beautiful summer day, gas prices are high, and the university kids are mostly all home. Turnout was low, to the point that we had spare judges at the open. I volunteered to play Day 1. I was also tapped to run the big pod on Sunday, with Chris Richter working as event manager and handling drafts. Turnout on Sunday was so low that Chris ran everything, and I headed home.

On the plus side, I got to play on Saturday morning, run a 2HG event in the afternoon, and I got to spend an absolutely perfect Sunday outside.

Open Dueling is just for kids

One of the options available at prereleases is open dueling. For $15, you get a precon — chosen at random – and a dueling slip. You play your precon against others players in single game matches. You record your opponent’s name on the slip, and when you have played five different opponents, win or lose, you can turn in the slip and you get a free pack.

I completely blew out my opponent in round 3 of the sealed pod, winning the match with almost 40 minutes left in the round. That made it a perfect time to buy a precon and do some Open Dueling.

I don’t like to look at my precon in advance. I just unpack it, shuffle it and draw my first hand. That’s when I find out what colors I have.

I got the RW precon. I still don’t know everything in the deck, but I do know that it has a couple untappers (like Patrol Signaler) — and Power of Fire. That combo is ridiculous: shoot you, make a dude. Shoot your guy twice, make two dudes. Insane.

Open Dueling is a perfect way to fill in the dead spots between rounds. I just wonder whether that can continue, given that Wizards is redesigning the precons. Henceforth, they will have smaller decks, but add an unopened booster pack.

Diet Mountain Dew can kill you

A helpful, if clueless, person emailed me a copy of the “SWEET POISON” chain email about Aspartame being a deadly poison (here’s a link to the email.) Since I, personally, consume a significant portion* of the world’s supply of Diet Mtn. Dew, I was a bit concerned. The email said aspartame, the sweetener in DMD, causes a host of problems, from multiple sclerosis to headaches to systemic lupus.

Being a skeptic, I checked it out.

First, since this was a medical claim, I checked the online version of the Physician’s Deck Reference. The PDR has information about most chemicals, diseases, treatments, etc. It’s usually a good place to start. The Physician’s Desk Reference has three warnings about Aspartame:

1) Do not take aspartame if you have phenylketonuria.
2) Aspartame may irritate the bladder in kids with bed-wetting problems.
3) Some patients report links between migraines and aspartame, but no studies confirm this link.

It says nothing about aspartame being linked, in any way, to MS, lupus, blindness, numbness “shooting,” dizziness, anxiety, spasms, global warming, or causing chickens to spontaneously explode.

Next stop was the websites that study and verify urban legends (Snopes) and questionable medical claims (Quack Watch). These sites will generally provide some good information — not always proof, but at least additional information on which to base your judgment.

In this case, we have an anonymous email, which has been circulating in various forms since 1995, making charges, and most of the mainstream medical journals, government agencies and so forth debunking them. That does not mean that the email is necessarily untrue, but it certainly means that I would want really good odds before I would bet on it.

I checked other sources for information on the dangers of Aspartame. The only ones I could find tended to also include diatribes about the dangers of fluoride in the water and the idea that airplane vapor trails are actually chemicals spread by “the government” to keep the population docile. (Seriously — Google “Chemtrails.”) In short — the sources that talk about the dangers are a bit short in credibility.

Again — not proof, but another reason to doubt the email.

I also looked at the email itself. It includes a little story about the author standing up at a “World Environment Conference” (sic) to rebut the speech given by the Administrator of the EPA. That’s another supposed “fact” that can be checked.

I also tried to find the “WORLD ENVIRONMENT CONFERENCE” via Google, Conference Locator, and other reference pages. I could not find any reference to the conference (other than references in variants on the email). Normally, you can find various references to conferences, including web page descriptions and reports, mentions of the conference in the curriculum vitae of some of the speakers, and usually copies of the published papers. For example, I gave a speech at the NARUC BRIC conference in 1994, and I found references via Google in seconds. The closest match I could find to WORLD ENVIRONMENT CONFERENCE (however capitalized) was the “Global 2000 World Environmental Conference and Trade Fair” in Vancouver, BC. I could not find any reference to a “Dr. Espart” or “Dr. H. J. Roberts” as speakers, nor any indication that any EPA spokesman addressed the conference, much less that the Administrator gave a keynote address about MS and Lupus. According to the conference organizer, “The core themes of GLOBE 2000 include: Energy & Climate Change, Corporate Environmental Strategies, and Global Environmental Markets.” — not medical or toxicity issues.

It is of course possible that the Administrator of the EPA did keynote some other conference – one a name similar to “World Environment Conference” (but different enough that no search engine can find it) and that he announced that the U.S. was suffering from “an epidemic of multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus” (although no search engines can find any reference to raised MS and lupus rates, and the EPA website, although including text of agency head speeches dating back to the early 1990s, at least, contains nothing on that topic).

So, no such conference, no such epidemic, no evidence, lots of contrary evidence, no credibility. Why would anyone send out an email like this?

Could they be trying to make some money off it? Hmmm. The email was titled “Sweet Poison.” Google “Sweet Poison” and — surprise! — someone is ready to sell you a detoxification course.

If you are thinking of sending them any money, send me a photo of your feet instead. I’ll not only cure you of the poisons, but I will send you a free Cauldron of Souls. I have nine.


The above has no relevance to Magic

Hey — Cauldron of Souls is Magical!

Seriously, though, it is important to be able to evaluate claims. For example, someone claims that their new Reaper King deck beats everything. That claim needs to be evaluated.

Has the author established credibility? (e.g. was it written by Patrick Chapin or Nobody LitlKid)?
Does he provide any proof? (Tournament reports, matchup analysis, explanations, etc.)
Is it peer reviewed? (In Magical terms, peer review can include playing it against established pros, or — more power — playing it in a seriously large tournament, and winning.)

I’m trying to teach critical thinking — and critical thinking applies to everything, not just to medical claims. Take a look at the following claim.

Quillspike is broken

No question, it is pretty good. It removes counters and pumps guys. In the prerelease sealed pool, I lost to an opponent that had it, plus several 6/6 dudes for 4 mana that arrive with four -1/-1 counters (a.k.a. Giant Growths for Quillspike). What was worse was that my opponent was removing the counters at the end of my turn, with spare mana — not beating with Quillspike and open mana.

That was one of those “joys of the prerelease” moments — but by the end of game 3 he had figured it out. He won.

What does that prove? In that match, with those players, it was a relevant card. The same can be said of Wheel of Sun and Moon in other Limited games – but that does not make it generally true. To be broken, Quillspike would have to be good in a lot of matches, in a number of different situations.

Which it is.

Good it clearly is. “Broken” — or more significantly, “Ban-Worthy” – are more extraordinary claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. We are not there yet.

None of which means that I won’t be quite happy to open a Quillspike if I am already GB coming out of Shadowmoor.

Critical Thinking applied to Magic

I managed to finish two rounds of a MTGO draft this morning, but had to head in to work before round 3 started. Presumably, I timed out in the finals.

I should have lost in the first round, but my opponent kept creatures like Hungry Spriggan back on defense. He was worried that I had tricks — but most of all, he was worried that I would have the on-color Liege, which would have made my guys lethal.

I had said “come on, deck… I need to topdeck that Liege!”

What he didn’t do was evaluate my claim critically. Sure, I implied that I had a Liege, and that I could draw it. Had he done the math — 80 rares in Shadowmoor, 24 in the draft, and Lieges get snapped up by raredrafters, so I had maybe a 1 in 10 chance of even getting one in the draft. Even if I had one (I didn’t), I had 3 cards in hand and 22 in my library. Odds of drawing the Liege — less than one in 20 for turns in the relevant period.

Critical thinking is the means by which you can evaluate a bluff, or a rumor. Like this one.

Wizards already has rare rares

I really do now have nine copies of Cauldron of Souls. I don’t rare-draft them, and I don’t trade for them. I have opened them all in Sealed or pack wars. I have zero copies of Oversoul of Dusk.

Ergo, I know that Wizards prints more crap rares than good rares.

On the other hand, Ben Bleiweiss says that’s not true — and he, and the StarCityGames.com crew, open thousands and thousands of boosters when new sets go on sale.

Who are you going to believe?

Some Internet warnings are true

Before I quit, I do want to pass on one real warning: about the dangers of DHMO. Some of you will have heard of this, but it’s good to get the word out.

DHMO kills thousands of people every year, and when crops are exposed for significant periods, they nearly all die, but there is also a reason why petitions like this one have not resulted on getting this “colorless, odorless chemical” banned. In fact, bills to ban DHMO have rarely been introduced, and have never — as far as I can tell — been voted on.

True, many corporations have strong financial interests in selling DHMO. Indeed, many jobs rely on DHMO — it is critical to everything from holistic medicine (like homeopathy) to the cleaning industry to Great Lakes tourism. Indeed, in a very real sense, the U.S. Navy is supported by DHMO.

DHMO stands for DiHydrous MonOxide — better known by its more common name.

And did I mention the Bad Times Virus?

Remember, be skeptical about all claims — those that Magic is dying, prereleases are gone, Steel of the Godhead is better than Aethertow, or that distilled water and coffee enemas cure cancer.

But if I claim I have a random rare that will destroy you — act like you believe it.


“one million words” on MTGO

* Half.