Journey to Nyx is right around the corner. Some brave souls might hope that Wizards spoils enough good cards to use as content fodder, but I’m not one of them. Because my articles are published on Fridays, I risk being repetitive since every other Magic writer gets share their thoughts before I do. That’s why I thought this would be a perfect time to do a mailbag type article. I asked my friends on Facebook and my followers on Twitter if they had any questions for me, and to my surprise the floodgates rushed opened. Countless people asked me some of the most interesting and challenging questions I’ve ever been asked (too many to ever imagine going over in a single article).
Journey into Nyx does have some sweet new cards so I’ve got plenty of new Standard decks to talk about, but those will have to wait until the end because I have some fun, interesting, and thought-provoking questions to answer!
In the popular game of Werewolf, what is the optimal day one strategy of a player who has been given the gunman role? Provide reasoning and examples. –Brian Braun-Duin
I would advise those who do not play Werewolf to simply move past this question and actually get to the meat of the article. For those of you that do play the game, this is by far the best strategy you can ever implement as the gunman.
If you need a refresher, the gunman is a character that has a single bullet and a gun. He can shoot anyone anytime during the daylight. It’s a very strong role if played correctly. The best case scenario is the gunman killing a known werewolf without using the daily lynching, confirming a camp member as a human since they just pulled out a gun and shot a werewolf. The only other perfect way to play the gunman is what happened last weekend.
Kali Anderson: "Everyone wakes up to find the goats have been viciously slaughtered! Their blood is sprayed all over town, and it looks to like we have werewolves amongst us!
Me: "Nooooooooooooooooooooo! Why would you do this, BBD, why?"
BBD: "#$%^ you!"
Me: "Bang, you’re dead."
BBD: *busts out laughing*
Me: "No, seriously. You’re dead."
Kali: "And BBD is a dead villager."
The villagers played perfectly by sniping a werewolf every day, proving this strategy is sound. Not only did we win, but Brian had to watch on the sidelines for the entire game.
What did you honestly think of the How I Met Your Mother series finale? –Cody Trafton
Seriously, I will get to Magic really soon. It’s just too tough to get asked questions that I’m emotionally attached to and not answer them. If your concern is that this is not Premium content, just consider this as the icing on the cake. There is plenty of that if you scroll down!
I have no qualms with Ted ending up with Robin. This ending seemed real. Life is a rollercoaster, and we all have to deal with ups and downs. We just have to make the best of it and never let it defeat us. It’s also the most logical reason why Ted was telling these specific stories throughout the series. Why wouldn’t he have started with how they actually met if his intentions were to simply tell a story?
I do however have two issues with the last season. The first is how Lily didn’t die during the week at the Farhampton Inn. She literally drank alcohol every minute for five days straight! Lily should have died. End of story!
Lastly, it should have been Bob Saget on the other side of the desk when we finally saw Ted talking to his kids. I understand it would have been jarring, but there are continuity issues on both sides. He has been the voice telling the stories for the entire series and should have been the one to finish off the show. Sure, it would have made it less romantic to have him holding the blue French horn in the final scene, but at least it would have tied the entire series together.
All right, let’s actually talk about Magic!
What has been your favorite deck that you have had the pleasure of being credited as creating? –Cody Trafton
The answer is without a doubt The Aristocrats: Act 2. This was yet another metagame deck that I built to attack the SCG Invitational in Atlanta last year. I worked on it for weeks and thought it was perfect for the event, and it was. Legacy was still my weakest format, which caused me to not make day 2 of the Invitational, but I ended up making my first Open Top 8 the following day with it.
Then the most amazing thing happened. People started to play the deck, and it was actually resilient!
For the next month I got message after message from players who played The Aristocrats: Act 2 to qualify for Pro Tour Theros as well as the World Magic Cup. Some of those players had never quite gotten to the professional scene before this, and that’s one of the best feelings in the world. One of my goals as a content provider is giving players the tools needed for success, and hearing these stories brought tears to my eyes because even though I have been at this for a while, I never really knew how much of an impact I have on people.
This deck was the motivation I needed to work as hard as I do to always know exactly what people should play in Standard. It was because of The Aristocrats: Act 2 and the success it brought to players around the world that I began to kick my work ethic into hyperdrive. Ever since then my own personal game has improved, and I have finally been able to be happy about my tournament results.
What do you think separates very good players (at a given point in time) from stone-cold masters (at a given point in time), and what causes people to fluctuate between the two? –Zac Hill
Outside of women, Magic is the most complex thing I have ever encountered on this planet. It’s impossible to ever be a hundred percent correct. That’s why after ten years of playing Magic I have yet to get bored of talking about the game at the dinner table. It’s an ever changing entity that’s designed to never stagnate no matter what. Everything about this game is self-correcting. With this comes more decision trees than the human brain can compute.
Having a vivid imagination is the most useful skill to catapult a good player into being an all-time great. Most good players know how to win the winnable games, but only the greats find ways to trick the opponent into making a mistake or take an extremely risky line they have never tried before to be able win the unwinnable games.
The reason that great players fluctuate between good and great is their dedication to the game. It’s difficult to always be wired into the Matrix if you expect to have a real life outside of the game. When life comes calling, it’s just too difficult to get enough testing in to be able to tap into the imagination the same way as when a player is playing all the time. Instead of being able to think about creative things, these players are forced to exhaust mental energy on decisions that come second nature to them if they are prepared enough.
What is your sickest bluff/mind trick? –Eli Loveman
My favorite play has to be from Grand Prix Portland in 2010. It was M11 Sealed, and my deck contained Serra Angel and Day of Judgment as its only good cards. I was going to have to make a couple moves on the first day to be able to come back to draft the next day.
In round 6 I found myself on the draw for game 3. My opponent’s deck was pretty solid, and most of his creatures trumped mine. We went very long in game 2, which I stole with a timely Day of Judgment followed up by the Serra Angel. My opening hand had both of these cards long with four lands and a two-drop.
My opponent led off with Llanowar Elves on turn 1, which meant my Day of Judgment had the opportunity to be very good in this particular game. He followed that up with a three-mana creature, but it would end up trading with my two-drop. He thought for a while and looked at me, obviously thinking about the possibility of me having Day of Judgment again, and simply played a two-power creature and passed. I untapped, drew for the turn, looked frustrated, and said go.
He jumped out of his seat in excitement as he quickly untapped, played another creature, and attacked for three. I untapped, slumped in my chair, and went into the tank. I played a Pacifism on his newly cast Cudgel Troll and passed it back to him. He attacked me down to fourteen and dispatched two creatures!
Luckily the top card of my library was in fact a land, and I slammed it onto the table and passed back. He untapped and attacked, but before damage I cast Unsummon on his biggest creature and went down to nine. This made him go into the tank. If he just replayed the same creature, he wouldn’t have lethal, so he decided to yet again play two creatures for the turn and cross his fingers. Honestly, I assumed the Unsummon might make him think I didn’t have the land or the Day of Judgment, but he seemed to not pick up on that subtle bluff.
Needless to say, I drew for the turn, put the card on the far right side of my hand, and then slowly reached over the left side of my hand to grab the fourth land to cast Day of Judgment. My opponent’s jaw almost landed on the table, and he looked like he was going to throw up. The next turn I did the same thing and cast Serra Angel after he didn’t do anything on his turn. Five turns later I was taking the match slip up to the front stage.
I have no idea if this was the correct line to take or even if it was good. All I know is your range gets pretty wide when you just made Top 8 of five premier level events in a row and your hubris starts to show.
What changed in your approach to the game now compared to your two "off years"? –Ari Lax
My hubris was showing . . .
Pride in oneself is a powerful drug. It’s also amazing that you never know when you’re on a "cooler/heater" until you’re finally off of it. I may or may not have been the best player in the world in 2010, but that wasn’t relevant since I thought I was. I was disconnected from reality and thought I didn’t have to work as hard as I did the previous year since I did so well.
I didn’t do too hot the next couple years.
What comes up must come down, and I crashed hard. I lost all my self-confidence in this game and am still working to rebuild it. What’s amazing about self-confidence though is not having it can be the greatest motivator. Once I realized that my low self-confidence prior to my 2010 run was the reason I worked so hard to achieve what I did, I began to develop a self-deprecating personality. I began to love to make fun of myself and sell myself short. This forced me to always assume that I needed to work harder than every other person in the room to achieve what I wanted.
This is exactly what I do now. I work harder than everyone for every tournament I play in. I grind 100+ hours before every Grand Prix I attend. I might not play in that many, but that’s only because I don’t go to an event I don’t think I’ll crush. That level of preparation is the only strength I allow myself to feel since I know I’m capable of going down a path of inflated confidence and know exactly how much that can negatively impact a career.
You have a lot of success building decks to attack established metagames. What is your process for analyzing and then brewing? –Patrick Sullivan
What do you understand about Standard that most people seem to miss? –Zac Hill
It’s probably easier to group both of these questions together. I almost decided to just write this entire article about why I love Standard after I saw these questions, but thought it would be unfair to others who submitted some really good ones. I guess this article will just be super long!
Standard to me has always been the perfect format for one reason: its size. Because Standard is always fluctuating between five and eight sets, the factors that make cards good will always be changing. Standard will often be based around the individual power level of cards when it only has five available sets but will gradually transition to being more synergy based as more sets come out. This often means that as new sets come out the playability of each card fluctuates. Some cards get better as others become worse.
This is also true in the middle of each format since there are just enough cards in Standard to have cohesive strategies but not enough cards for each deck to be impenetrable. Every deck has its Achilles’ heel. This means that no matter what as long as there are enough players out there trying to find new things, the format will change.
I love change! Being able to try new strategies and attack metagames with unique strategies is exactly why I gravitated toward Magic. Constructed metagames are very similar to puzzles. You have to look at each individual piece and try to see the whole picture. If you spend too much time sifting through a small subset of the pieces, you often get tunnel vision, which leads to predictable strategies. Only by seeing every moving card as well as the dormant ones will you be able to truly find unique strategies that no one else has yet discovered.
The way I analyze cards is the same way I analyze people. Instead of looking for the negative aspects that make them worse than others, I solely search for what they do better than anything else. When I meet someone, I try to find out what they do better than me and everyone around us. This way I can see the greatness they have. I don’t waste my time trying to validate myself by finding out why I’m better; in fact, I do the opposite. By doing this I not only might find something I could improve on myself, but I also see the true beauty in each individual person I meet and surround myself with. I also always know exactly who to go to when I need help in specific areas in life.
I give every Magic card a chance. I might not playtest with them all, but if I’m curious if a card can be good, I’ll try it. It doesn’t have to be good in multiple situations or be a standalone all-star. It just has to fulfill a specific role. I test so many bad cards at least once just to make sure. Obviously 99 percent of the time it doesn’t work out, but I only need the one percent. That’s just enough to give me a significant edge in a specific event.
My process for analyzing the format coincides with looking for the unique cards in the format. I spend a ton of time in Magic Online deck editor, but I don’t use it how it was intended. On one screen I will have the decklists that did well this past weekend alongside stock decklists of the tier 1 strategies. This way every card that is being played right now will be in plain sight and I won’t miss something.
On the other screen is the deck editor. The sideboard is used as an additional visual reference for all the cards that are highly played in the format that are worthy of exhausting slots in a decklist to interacting with or that are too powerful to justify playing specific cards. The maindeck area is a place to put cards that I think could be interesting to try out. I scroll through the entire card pool, looking for cards that people are either not prepared to play against or those that positively interact with a high percentage of cards seeing play. I won’t test everything, but I will be able to have a much higher chance of seeing something I wouldn’t normally see by doing this.
This approach is very similar to doing research. I just spend a couple hours looking at cards and analyzing. After a while I will find some inspiration worth testing. When those theories have been tested, I will go back to this drawing board again with a more narrow set of cards as well as more refined strategies.
Oftentimes I have to play Standard every weekend for multiple weeks in a row. Since I’m addicted to testing, I usually spend Monday through Thursday working on what I take to the next event. After years of doing this, I have finally found a regiment that I follow when working on new decks. I never break it and always trust in it. Rarely has it let me down, but there have been times (like Grand Prix Cincinnati), where my testing failed me and I had to audible to the deck I was previously playing.
Monday: This is the day I do most of my research on a format and decompress from the past weekend. Very few games are played, but much of my time is still spent on preparation. I just often do it in a much more relaxed mindset and simply process everything that happened over the weekend. Once I have a strategy I think will be good, I work on building the deck and playing a couple eight-man events.
Tuesday: This is the day that I go off the deep end with the strategy. I constantly change cards and oftentimes butcher decklists simply to see how all the cards interact. I will never submit the same 75 in back-to-back events on Magic Online. I just believe it’s more important to keep trying new things rather than continuing to grind the same list over and over again.
This is because I’m a firm believer that you can never really find out if a new deck is good on Magic Online. You will always know if a deck is bad, but it’s very difficult for me to decipher whether a deck is good or not. My win percentage is often high simply because my opponents have no clue what I’m doing and many Magic Online players tend to play on autopilot.
Seriously guys, just close those other tabs!
Wednesday: This is the first day that I seriously look at win percentages and work on tightening up my list. I may try some new cards, but I mostly know the specific cards that I want to play. All that needs to be figured out is the correct numbers of things. I start to double queue just so I can see more games played, but I always play the same list in both events and wait for them both to finish before joining two more. This way I can keep the lists straight.
By the end of Wednesday, I know whether I want to play the deck or not. I force myself to make a decision since if I want to bail on the new deck, I can at least get some games in with my backup plan on Thursday so my mindset is on the deck I play during the coming weekend.
Thursday: Once I’m locked in to playing the "brew," I will once again go hog wild trying to find new and unique cards for the deck. This is my theory day. I try it all just once more time and then hope that I have enough information to put it all together on Friday.
Simply brewing a new strategy doesn’t just happen. The secret is looking for good cards that overlap against the field. Sometimes you can even find fringe cards that most decks play into.
These questions have inspired me to write an article using a specific week of testing as a real example to my process. It will just have to wait until I build a new deck.
How would you suggest for a player to buy in to Magic Online without a collection? –Gery Pawelzik
The way I built up a respectable Magic Online collection was investing in single set Block. I built a competitive deck and grinded it until I could then invest in more cards from the block. Eventually I owned every card in the set, which happened right around the time the next set came out. I did the same thing for the second and third set until I owned every card in the Block format.
Once I owned the entire block, I continued to only play that format until the next core set and first set in the next block came out. I spent my six months of accumulated tickets on enough cards to own a couple Standard decks and finally had a Magic Online Standard collection.
Using this method will not only be the cheapest way to get into Magic Online but will set you up for a very successful run in Standard. This is because you’ve played with so many cards from the first three sets in the format. This knowledge base will allow you to actually brew new strategies since you’ve seen so many of the now "fringe" cards interact with each other. When the format shifts around, your subconscious will just go to a card no one is playing and remind you that it could be good.
How do you get your hair to look so amazing? –Jeremy Peterson
My hair product of choice is hair glue! It comes in a bottle just like Elmer’s Glue, which throws people off when they see it. The only difference is that it’s water soluble. I wait until my hair is completely dry and just run it through my hair a couple times and hope it looks good. I’ve learned from experience that the more I mess with it, the worse it will end up looking since it starts to clump up due to how thick it is.
And finally we have come to the question of the hour.
What card in Journey into Nyx has you most excited? –Literally everyone else
This wasn’t the case at first, but early this week I recorded a Versus video with Todd Anderson in which he tried to make this card work. His list wasn’t built correctly, but his intuition about the card was spot on. The card felt like it was extremely powerful, but the tools Todd had to deal with my threats weren’t what he wanted. After the match we discussed the correct way to build a deck revolving around the card and came to this.
This isn’t extremely tuned or anything, but it’s something I’m interested in trying out. Instead of using Jace, Architect of Thought to gain card advantage, this deck solely relies on Dictate of Kruphix in that department. Yes, this card helps out opposing players by allowing them to draw extra cards as well, but there’s more going on than you would think.
For starters, you’ll always be the first person to gain card advantage off of this card since it has flash. This means that you’ll be able to play it at the end of the opponent’s turn and have all of your mana untapped the next turn to do whatever you need to do. Second, you won’t have to waste your turn playing Jace, Architect of Thought anymore to find land drops. This card will help you constantly find lands, which means you’ll be able to interact with your opponent more.
The universal effect of this card really isn’t as bad as you might think, especially in game 1. Most opponents’ decks will be filled with not only removal spells but enablers like Sylvan Caryatid. They will also not be able to utilize their extra mana, so most of the cards they draw won’t be that relevant. It honestly isn’t that scary for the opponent to be drawing more cards as long as you continue to wipe their board every now and again.
Getting this card into play is also interesting as long as it’s as good as I think it is. You know the philosophy of playing your best card when the opponent has all of their mana open being the best way to try to force them to counter your spell instead of casting Sphinx’s Revelation? That now happens on turn 3! The opponent will want to play around Dissolve but now will be punished by you being able to play your draw engine since they didn’t do anything relevant when you had three mana. This makes the deck able to play more like a flash deck since it can build its board position while also being able to keep mana open to interact with an opponent.
Once you’ve gained firm control of the game, you use Elixir of Immortality to keep your library plump with action so you can cast Supreme Verdict every turn. The one maindeck Revoke Existence is there to not only defend from opposing Detention Sphere since Dictate of Kruphix is our win condition, but you might have to Detention Sphere your own Dictates of Kruphix if you suspect Elixir of Immortality is at the bottom of your deck or have gained a firm grasp on the game and want to get way ahead before allowing your opponent to draw five cards a turn.
It’s a silly game we play.
And that’s all for my first mailbag article! It won’t be something I do often, but let me know if it’s something you might want again in the future. Good luck to those battling this weekend. I will be once again spending a weekend at home in preparation for my Pop(rock)’s first visit to Roanoke. If I get all of my work finished, you might even find me streaming some Junk Reanimator this weekend!