Let me frame my thoughts for today with a story drawn from non-Magic gaming memories.
I’m familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, but for some reason, I played (classic) BattleTech with my elementary school classmates, and we stayed with it for about six years until high school.
(If you’ve never played Classic BattleTech or Mechwarrior or Mech Commander on the PC, you can scroll down.)
Perhaps the most amusing game I ever GM’d was one that spontaneously took shape during a high school ROTC training session. It was our November semestral break and the cadet corps stayed overnight in the campus’s largest auditorium for a marathon trick drill practice session. Now, the game developed a following among the Juniors and officer trainees, but we discovered that one of the Senior cadet officers had come home from the States the previous summer with a boxful of rulebooks and technical readouts.
So in between drills, our Cadet Colonel Cualoping regaled Cadet Sergeant Tan and company with his sage advice on small unit Mech tactics – despite never having played a single game before, not even the original Mechwarrior PC game.
You can imagine that a couple of hours of this got tiresome, but there was the small problem of him being a superior officer.
So what did the grunts do – suck it up?
Of course not.
Before the sun set, the corps commander (who had never played a game himself) had mysteriously issued a challenge for one BattleTech game. Naturally, his target had to bite, never mind that the players and the GM were all Juniors who had rallied behind their hero.
To apprecia|e the humor, you had to be there, and you had to be fifteen years old.
Cadet Colonel Hans Ong was nicknamed”The Incredible Hulk” by his class, could bench quite a bit more than any of us Juniors, played lead guitar for the Seniors’ band, and – most importantly – could look any student in the school in the eye and shout,”Drop and give me twenty!“
Cualoping, the S-2 (Staff Intelligence Officer), was a thinner, bespectacled guy who found himself standing alone against this giant and the small crowd of lowerclassmen who were staring dagger looks and smiling evil grins.
So what does he do?
He pulls out a digital diary and asks,”Oscar, do you allow custom designs?” Without a second thought, he conceded it would only be fair to let the Junior players field their campaign unit – especially since they said they wouldn’t bother to make any changes – if he could roll out his”optimized” Mechs.
And so he cried,”You guys are dead!” and skulked away with his digital diary and some scratch paper.
Now, Cadet Colonel Cualoping was an incredibly nice guy, but no one was going to let him off easy after that, right?
After dinner, I spread out a hex map in the middle of the auditorium stage, surrounded by a group of snickering teen-agers Indian-seated on their sleeping bags.
“Okay, Hans, it’s been a long day and you enter a smoky bar in search of a good ending. Without warning, you’re accosted by a rude drunk carrying a digital diary. The grizzled mercenaries at the nearby table stand up and move towards him. Before anyone draws, you look him in the eye and say, ‘Let’s settle this in the simulators.’ Roll initiative and place your Mechs on the northern and southern map edges please.”
Mech simulators in a bar, Oscar? Okay, so you had to be fifteen to appreciate that the backstory here was about as relevant as the one in a first-person shooter. I mean, what mature gaming group lets the GM brazenly cheer for one side so long as he doesn’t load the dice?
Anyway, I could see that although the five-minute old character”Hans” was a rookie played by someone who only knew how to say,”Move the Mech forward at full speed and fire everything I have at the nearest enemy,” Cualoping had stuck his foot in his mouth before the game even began.
First, remember Cualoping said he’d play against the existing player unit? Well, he also said that nobody could play Clan characters (which any Mechwarrior fan knows are the genetically enhanced, high-technology boys) so he drew up ordinary Mechs.
Over the course of several planetary raids, the player unit had these things called”captured Clan Assault Omnimechs,” the heaviest machines allowed in the game. They also didn’t tell Cualoping they lent rookie Hans their”spare.”
Second, Cualoping was in a hurry and asked me to give him standard non-Clan pilots from the standard (and simpler) rules.
The Juniors behind Hans had veteran characters with improved stats after said planetary raids, and all the bonuses for the full RPG rules. Simply, they had a base of two or better on two six-sided die to hit something, plus various modifiers.
Someone obviously forget to read one key rulebook, and the GM didn’t point it out because Cualoping just said,”Four Mechs, any weight, any pilots they want.” (The GM didn’t mention, either, that one player snuck in the captured Clan pilot his character had married. Limited Information rules, you see.)
It turned out Cualoping thought he had put one over everyone by reading the special”Land-Air Mech creation” rules, or the BattleTech versions of Veritech fighters. Now, unlike the flashier Robotech originals, BattleTech Land-Air Mechs are mere scout units that trade weapons and armor for extreme mobility and even transformation into a jet.
They also happen to have a maximum weight of 55 tons.
On the opposite edge of the map was Hans and the Juniors had four 90-100 ton Mechs, fully loaded with the heaviest Clan weaponry in our rulebook.
Cualoping’s standard character lost the initiative roll – predictably – and the first Junior scored a particle projection cannon hit at extreme range – oh, Cualoping hadn’t read up on improved Clan weapon ranges, either – into the fourth Mech’s cockpit, vaporizing it and the pilot for an instant kill.
Two more were promptly blown to smithereens in less than twenty seconds of game time.
(Mobility wasn’t much against veteran character Gunnery skill.)
The game ended with Cualoping’s commander cornered on top of a small hill. The Juniors had lent Hans a 95-ton Executioner for those of you who played Mechwarrior II (still the best one of the four!), and after some curt whispers from the troops, he went,”Oscar, I attempt Death From Above. What’s that?”
Sure enough, Hans’s Assault Mech jetted up, crashed its massive legs into Cualoping’s last Medium Mech, and sent it plummeting into an eighteen-meter drop. The flurry of damage rolls revealed that Cualoping had taken just enough damage to crush his last Mech’s entire torso and cockpit as Hans’s Mech picked itself up and raised its arms from the edge of the cliff.
“…and so you finally get to sit down at the bar and order a cold beer. Meanwhile, your new friends pull out the unconscious drunk from the simulator and throw him out into the gutter, and his digital diary after him.”
After the night’s premature end, everyone just grabbed their flashlights and ran off into the night,”ghost hunting” around the campus. Hans stayed behind with a piece of graphing paper, and later handed it to me saying,”This is Cualoping’s Mech!”
The piece of paper had a Mech drawn on it – minus everything above the crotch.
The following morning, we woke up to discover that the power had gone out and the Mother of all Typhoons had entered Philippine air space. Training was called off and I sat in the driveway watching all the dead leaves dancing in the over-hundred-mile-per-hour wind. And then, well, our parents picked us up.
Oh, we kept that piece of graphing paper. Eventually, though, some players progressed to needing a negative two or better to hit things, and figured out equipment combinations to bring it down to negative five. Games turned into the GM throwing twice the players’ weight in opposition, with the players going,”We stand still and aim all our Clan PPCs at Enemy #1 dead center in the chest with our captured Targeting Computers… next… next… next…”
It was fun beating up on armchair generals like Cadet Colonel Cualoping, but we disallowed Targeting Computers shortly before the increasingly infrequent campaigns just stopped and I dropped everything but Magic.
This was the memory that came to mind when Ferrett wrote an impassioned response to my last column (Maximizing Mirrodin, Part V: Mail Call, Part 2″) on the Star City Forums:
(Editor’s Note: Oscar hates it when I post replies to his articles, especially since I only do it when I disagree with him – but hey, it’s better than a separate article, which I’m on the verge of writing.)
You won. You now have almost everything you asked for when you started to write your first columns – Wizards is paying attention to you, the Vintage community is thriving with new players, more sponsored tourneys, more respect from Magic as a whole –
And now, as has been the case since I began writing Magic articles, you’re upset because Wizards still isn’t doing it precisely the way you want it. I will simply say, take a moment, savor your triumph, and be thankful.
And realize that a lot of what you’re complaining about is the natural progression of what you wanted to happen in the first place.
You started writing because nobody really understood Vintage, and you wanted to set the record straight. Congratulations! You succeeded! Over the course of the past three years (and due largely in part to your efforts), Vintage now has a large number of players who take the game seriously. It had a World Championships. It has several large tournaments internationally where people go to play. People are writing solid articles on Vintage strategy.
Now what’s your beef?
“Sometime after the World Championships at GenCon, I have to admit to a sense of boredom with the game. At the time, it felt like just about every Tier 1 deck revolved around one or two broken cards, non-combo decks included: Mishra’s Workshop, Illusionary Mask, Psychatog, and a handful of others.”
Now, the silly thing here is that you’re bored with Illusionary Mask and Psychatog – cards that aren’t in every deck.
How do you think the rest of us feel about Black Lotus? Or Ancestral Recall? Or the Moxes? Yes, not every Vintage deck uses those cards – but every deck whose mana base can support it does.
Yet you’re saying you’re bored because of Psychatog. The end result of competitive Vintage is that the most powerful cards will get used, as often as they can. The rest of us got bored with seeing broken”Black Lotus, Mox, Mox” openings long ago. Yes, that’s part of what Vintage is, but it’s dreadfully boring to type up every deck and see the same damn ten or fifteen cards in every one.
(And if you’d like to debate how often they show up, I will remind you that no other format has abbreviated a set of obligatory cards to save time the way that Vintage does with”SoLoMoxen.”)
In a competitive field with a lot of players, only the best cards will be used. My suspicion is that you hold a deep love for your Lotus because it’s old-time, but distrust the Workshop because it’s a newcomer to competitive play.
Speaking as someone who witnessed wide swaths of the Vintage Championships, I can tell you honestly that watching someone plop down the fortieth Black Lotus at the end of the day, no matter what the deck, was not particularly thrilling. Nor was the”I do something broken, you Force it.”
If you’re bored, what I’m saying is that you’re bored with competitive decks and want more fun stuff where weirdo cards pop out of nowhere and surprise you.
Those days are probably gone. They vanished once everyone else hopped in the pool.
“For me, it’s not so much change that is good, but the resulting broad and relatively stable format…. I loved the simultaneous discussion of over twenty different archetypes in all four categories… Simply put, would you want to successfully hate out X but get paired against Y, then get a surprise loss to the kid who borrowed someone’s Stompy?”
Welcome to something the rest of us have had to deal with for some time, Oscar: That’s the metagame.
There are only so many genuinely viable decks out there. I will go so far as to say that if you have twenty”good” decks in a given format, each of which is mostly equal in power and could win a tournament, then you have a radically underdeveloped metagame.
The competitive Extended and Standard circuits have had to deal with this fact for the past two or three years. There are some decks that tear a hole in other decks, and lose to a third. If you choose the wrong deck, you can lose.
But that’s good, because it means that rogueish decks and the development of them becomes more critical. Rogue decks rarely win tournaments their first time out, but decks like Mirari’s Wake come out of nowhere, slowly grow to prominence and win a few tourneys, and then slowly fade as someone finds a foil and the metagame changes. (Wake didn’t, but that’s because the card rotated out.)
This is what’s happening to Vintage. But it’s what happens when people pay attention to any format: No deck stays on top for long. There are some decks you get sick of because they’re the decks to beat, but if Wizards does it right no deck dominates.
(Yes, you’ve had some of that in Vintage, but up until recently you could always play The Deck. That was one of the biggest reasons you gave for playing Type One when you started! Well, from many reports Zoo is on its way out, and the day is approaching when the Deck – *gasp* – may be a bad metagame choice.
(Welcome to the transition! You can no longer sit on a pet deck! And that’s because of more people and more attention from Wizards!)
If Vintage has been about”Every deck can win!” and”You can play these decks forever!” then it hasn’t been thoroughly explored. Not with the card pool you guys have available to you. That’s also most likely lost forever – and that’s a direct result of getting people to play it seriously. People will now netdeck, they’ll try to beat things…
…and when that happens, a lot of the fun goes out of it.
From reading your columns, Oscar, the impression one gets is that you want a dream Vintage world where”The Deck” will always be the best deck out there, where people play seriously but casually, and the same decks show up over and over again in a reassuring cavalcade of classic hits.
You wanted Wizards to pay attention to you. Well, they have! They’ve been designing cards that have been shaking up your metagame – maybe you don’t like what they’re doing, since the general impression one gets from reading your column is that you want a much slower metagame where decks stay constant… But they’re doing it. We weren’t thrilled about Upheaval and the pre-built Goblins decks out here in Standardland, but that’s what happens when R&D starts trying to make cards for you; they get some things right (fetchlands), and some things wrong (Mind’s Desire). To expect R&D to get everything right every time is foolish; when you said,”Hey, Wizards, support the format!” you were in effect saying,”Hey, R&D, throw cards at us and see what happens!”
They have. Is that a bad thing?
You wanted people to play Vintage. Well, they have! And they’re paying so much attention now that it’s forcing everyone’s skill levels to a higher level! You can’t get away with sloppy decks!
I’ve seen it happen time and time again in fun multiplayer groups where one guy gets better than the rest; you either start striving to play better or you leave, but either way it’s a little less fun for us casual types.
You got about 75% of what you were demanding when you started out, but now the laws of unintended consequences are coming back and stealing the things you liked about the game originally. Take a moment to be thankful and to stop griping about how Vintage is really becoming less fun – and to reflect that sometimes, you get what you ask for, only to discover it’s not really what you wanted.
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy
The State of the Metagame address
Mirrodin comes at the height of rapid, radical changes in Type I, both in the metagame and in the community. All these changes and a new set with some very powerful cards have combined to bring very strong-and divided-opinions about the state of Type I to the fore.
Some of you have been crying to stop the whining about Mirrodin and suck it up, and get back to the strategy shop talk.
Let me explain.
This is strategy talk.
An evaluation of the metagame challenges a player’s understanding of the game’s most fundamental theoretical concepts, and their practical application to the current card pool. The usual article discusses a deck and the nuances of a handful of cards. Players, lately, have been essentially discussing the very rules of the format and every competitive deck in the last five years.
Oh, since we’ll be discussing fundamentals, I’d like you to read some of my fundamentals articles if you haven’t come across them yet:
Back to Basics #2: “A Mana Curve Can Be a Line or a Blob”
Back to Basics #3: “Counting Card Advantage” (with clarifications in #4)
Back to Basics #5: “Counting Tempo, Part I” (land drops)
Back to Basics #6: “Counting Tempo, Part II” (untap phases)
Back to Basics #7: “Counting Tempo, Part III” (attack phases)
First of all, Ferrett is right that Type I has made great strides in the past five years, and we should all be proud.
With respect to the format itself, deck technology has gone a long way from what it was in 1998. In the earliest days of”The Deck,” it took Brian Weissman quite a while before putting all four Force of Wills in, and it took an even longer time before later players threw in Morphling over the dead Mirror Universe, and Yawgmoth’s Will over the then staple twin Gaea’s Blessings. Now, players from all over the world can test and form a consensus to reject a new idea in a week or two. Give Type I players a new set, and they’ll now have most of the tricks integrated into the format in a month, at most.
More importantly, strategy discussion has broadened far beyond the original Beyond Dominia core players optimizing”The Deck” slot by slot. You have discussions on just about every style, down to the next generation of comprehensive primers (as we ended up calling them on Beyond Dominia) by the likes of Steve Menendian and Arthur Tindemans. The speed of initial global discussion on the Animate Dead–Worldgorger Dragon and Mind’s Desire was simply astounding.
The format, in short, does not”move like molasses,” to quote Eric“Danger” Taylor.
But more importantly, the community itself has grown, and far beyond the original Beyond Dominia regulars who got sick of repeating themselves week after week to transient visitors. Yes, Wizards’ PR mentions us with a bit more dignity than the players of some stray format, and no one makes careless,”…and it must be broken in Type I!” comments anymore. And yes, they did hold a Vintage Championships this year, with several other established private tournament circuits like Germany’s Dülmen.
Perhaps the most telling detail?
Years ago, Type I articles began with something like,”I play Type I, I love it and you should try it.” Half the time, that’s all the article discussed. Today, no one’s surprised to see a Type I strategy article, and a good number of non-Type I players read them.
So again, we’ve come a long way and we should be very, very proud. And happy.
However, self-evaluation certainly doesn’t cheapen how far we’ve gone. Indeed, some of the most enlightening reflections you make come not at the heels of your most dismal failures, but after your greatest triumphs.
Evolution is a process, not a destination, and we aren’t about to stop reflecting just because, in Ferrett’s words, we’ve achieved 75%.
The Idealized Type I Metagame
Some of the difficulty in evaluating Type I stems from a lack of a concrete idea of what Type I players really want. Not a real consensus, but a loose vision that a broad player base can work towards.
Take, for example, the Ask Wizards feature last October 14, responding to whether or not a Type I Pro Tour is a possibility in the future:
“While Type 1 fans will point out the format is in fact interesting and features a large number of different decks, it is the case that the types of decks turn over pretty slowly. From our perspective, slow change is less interesting than relatively rapid change. Most importantly, Type 1 has always and will presumably always prominently feature the Power Nine and certain power cards from very early sets, like Mana Drain. This puts the format out of the price range of many players.”
Do players agree with Organized Play’s description? Do you, specifically?
If you disagree, how should the format have been described?
Over the last five years, I’ve formed a rough idea of some of the pieces:
Type I Must Be Diverse
I think no other format’s players demand diversity as much as Type I players do. However, I should clarify: The last time I discussed twenty decks in any single article was when I explained why Vampiric Tutor was being yanked from”The Deck.” That article mentioned decks from Sligh and Stompy to SquirrelCraft and TurboLand.
Obviously, I never said a Type I paradise has twenty Tier I decks at a time.
The top tier changes, if that’s what you’re looking at. Back after Black Vise was restricted, your classic trio was”The Deck,” the Necrodeck and Zoo. At the time of GenCon 2003, it was roughly Hulk Smash (Type I Psychatog), Vengeur Masque (Type I Full English Breakfast with Illusionary Mask) and Stax (red/blue Mishra’s Workshop), with Burning Academy eventually refined to eclipse everything else.
Now, post-Mirrodin, it’s shaping up to be”The Deck”, MUD (red/artifact Workshop) and Dragon (Animate Dead/Worldgorger Dragon with Bazaar of Baghdad).
However, you cannot focus solely on Tier I. Tier II and III decks are often solid concepts with efficient cards and structures in their own right, and if nothing else, keep certain archtypes honest. For example, Sligh has never been Tier I in Type I, but how many years has Circle of Protection: Red been sideboarded by”The Deck”?
More importantly for the truly competitive player, however, there are cases when a well-tuned Tier II or even III deck is a solid choice. In arguing that Hulk is more vulnerable than it’s reputed to be, for example, fellow Paragon Shane Stoots posited that Stompy would be fun against it. Three years ago, Matt D’Avanzo said the same thing about mono blue with unrestricted Fact or Fiction.
This is extreme, but I still remember that Neutral Ground (New York) Top 4 that featured a Type I Battle of Wits and a Stompy deck. More commonly, however, you can find a Tier II deck that serves as a strong foil to a specific Tier I deck, and exploit it in a metagame where its own foils are absent. Suicide Black is perhaps the best example through the years.
Finally, do note that since Type I does change, today’s Tier III and Tier II decks might very well move up.
However, why is Type I ideally diverse? Other formats develop Tier I and Tier II decks too, right?
When making parallels to other formats, there are two important things to remember about Type I.
First, Type I has far more cards than any other format. Naturally, you’d want to see a good number of them in action. Thus, if you have very few playable archetypes already counting up to Tier III, or if the Tier I decks outstrip the others to the point that they all become irrelevant, then you have the irony of the format with the largest card pool revolving around a narrower selection than Block Constructed.
Ironic indeed. And, ridiculous.
Second, nothing rotates out of Type I. If you were sick of seeing Wild Mongrel and Psychatog in Type II, all you had to do was wait it out for a few expansions. But what are you going to do in Type I?
This is why the best Type I changes are those that create, stimulate and add, not those that hate out or cut off certain strategies. The moment something gets printed, Type I players are stuck with the consequences until Wizards folds up. Thus, if something otherwise solid gets hated out into obsolescence, it’s likely to stay down unless something radical gets printed.
Thus, ideally, Type I should have a lot more archtypes, at least counting up to Tier III. It’s not so much that every well-tuned concept should have as good a chance of winning as anything else, but that there’s room for a lot of them to have a fair shot, not necessarily the best shots.
Type I Must Be Able To Accommodate All Play Styles
This, in my opinion, is the underlying essence of diversity. I enjoyed the post-Fact or Fiction environment enjoyable not only because there were a large number of decks you could choose from, but because every fundamental strategy had something close to the top.
Aggro had Tools ‘n’ Tubbies at the time, Aggro-Control had Tainted Mask and Grow (Chapin and all other varieties), control had”The Deck,” and combo had Neo-Academy and some others. Taking into account inherent weaknesses (like, aggro has problems with combo, and combo has problems with control), this was indeed wonderful. Even better, you had a healthy collection of”Tier IIs” and”next bests” within each strategy.
If you look solely at GenCon 2003’s Top 8, then the Vintage Championships catered to players of all stripes as well. Champion Carl Winter was a veteran”The Deck” player, and Hulk served him well even if”The Deck” itself was not viable. Shane Stoots is one of the Paragons’ hidebound aggro fanatics, and he placed second with Vengeur Masque.
For aggro-control, you had the third Paragon David Allen in the Top 8 with Tainted Mask. Things were rounded out by Stax, Goblin, Dragon, Rector and early Burning Academy builds.
Now, you can’t take these examples at face value because there was, in hindsight, a lack of knowledge in each time period. In 2002, the building blocks for Growing ‘Tog, Hulk Smash, Burning Academy, Stax, Vengeur Masque, Rector and Dragon with Bazaar were already there, but no one had put them together yet. In 2003, people knew Burning Desire was strong, but it was a while before it broke the metagame.
Still, since we’re talking ideal metagames, these imperfect examples suffice. In both time periods, you had healthy, broad discussions on aggro, aggro-control, control and combo, and there was something for everyone. Even developments in”lesser” decks in each could contribute to the larger strategy.
Compare these two imperfect examples with, say, 1999. Certainly, it was enjoyable devoting all your energies to the diverse metagame of Tolarian Academy-based combo, Memory Jar-based combo and Yawgmoth’s Bargain-based combo?
And if you want to talk Type II, well, can you play a mono blue deck anywhere close to Draw-Go right now? Again, you can in Type I if you really want to, and have at least a fair shot at winning games. (If you do, though, you’ll likely need another color for removal given the permanents that can be thrown at you before you get your second mana. I never said it was Tier I, right?)
Type I Must Be Stable
This is another ideal that’s easy enough to misunderstand.
“Stability” has always been one of Type I’s main selling points. Play the format where nothing rotates out and you can use your cards forever, right?
But we’re going to have arguments until we define what the hell”stability” really means.
The potential misunderstanding is evident since stability can mean either resistance to change, or just a sense of constancy, reliability and dependability. The two can have opposite connotations.
Now, I’m a law student, and interestingly enough, law also has to be stable. What in hell is a”stable” law? As Harvard Law Dean Roscoe Pound once put it,”The law must be stable, and yet it cannot stand still.”
I suppose you can say the same about the Type I card pool.
It has to be stable in the sense that it has to remain familiar. It has to maintain that link to the roots of Magic: the Gathering. It has to showcase the wealth of tech accumulated over the last ten years, a little of the best of everything. When you look at Type I, you want to feel the card advantage strategies of control, the efficiency of good aggro, the intricate puzzles that are solid combo, and reflect over all the game’s accumulated lessons.
You want to be comfortable that you can hide in a cave for a month or two, and know you can still dust off your Type I decks from the shelf and have something to come back to, unlike Type II where the same deck may well be completely obsolete or illegal already.
But at the same time, Type I should not reject change as well.
We resolve the seeming contradiction by emphasizing that Type I’s development must be evolution. Change can be embraced, but by adding it to what already exists, not supplanting it.”The Deck” is the most beautiful example of all this. From a clunky 1995 version with four Swords to Plowshares and four Disenchants, it gained stronger cards and streamlined while tracing a clear line from its roots. The newest tech like Cunning Wish, Brainstorm, Polluted Delta, and now Chalice of the Void enhance it and challenge its players to integrate these properly – but you know it’s still the same venerable deck deep inside. And this, even though it has retired so many past MVPs, from Jayemdae Tome to (almost unthinkably) Regrowth.
Think about the Constitution. Everything from technology to changed social beliefs challenge it, and jurisprudence has been refined, added to, strengthened, and in some cases, even completely reversed. And yet, you trace the same values you hold today to your Founding Fathers, and America just wouldn’t be the same if it decided to scrap the Constitution and rewrite it completely from scratch every fifty years.
In the same vein, decks’ strengths might rise and fall, but you want them to be there somewhere in the metagame. If all Type I control decks, for example, became obsolete, then we would have a big problem. Same if all Type I aggro decks became obsolete, never mind that some people insist that aggro inherently stinks anyway.
The Onslaught fetchlands are a good example of healthy stability. They enhanced almost every deck type, made certain new variants possible, but opened all these doors without slamming any shut.
Type I Must Be Familiar
An essential part of Type I’s stability is how it can accommodate, to some reasonable extent, a player who wants to stick to a particular archtype, unlike Type II where rotations can force you to switch completely. Thus, you can personalize your deck, and you can write all these extensive primers.
However, note I said,”to some reasonable extent.”
I have no idea where Ferrett got the idea that I live in a dream world where”The Deck” is always the best deck, defeating countless reruns of old, familiar archetypes. (I can’t quote specific passages, but I know I’m not the only one who gets that impression from Oscar – The Ferrett, in the only interjection you’ll see in this article)
Heck, around 1997, Brian Weissman switched to Zoo.
But it’s a good example, since with Mirrodin, it’s better than Hulk again, so none of the”The Deck”-specific doctrine is obsolete. And before this, the switch to Hulk as the premier control deck wasn’t tough at all – just ask Carl Winter.
So qualified, you should be able to play a certain deck forever in Type I, where nothing rotates out. Just don’t expect your list to be identical to its 1995 version, or keep its 1995 metagame position.
Type I Must Be Broken-But Within Reason
Type I players want to see a lot of old favorites in the format, archtypes and specific decks alike. Part of this is wanting to get a few of those broken plays no longer possible in the more carefully designed Type II card pools.
This is Type I, broken things happen, right?
Note, however, that I never said absurd things happen.
The worst stigma of Type I is being associated with crazy first-turn kills no better than coin flips. Consistent second- and third-turn kills are just as bad, and they implemented an unholy large set of restrictions in 1999 precisely because Type I had become absurd in the wake of Urza Block.
The last Extended bannings emphasized, moreover, that absurdity is not limited to broken card drawing engines alone. Tempo is just as important. You might even argue that this was reflected in Fact or Fiction’s restriction as well, since Type I’s mana acceleration made it a much stronger card than it was in Type I.5 or Extended.
Tempo, perhaps more than card advantage, is intimately related to the first-turn kill stigma. Of course, if you can do too many broken things too early too often, then you are ceding too large a role to the luck of the draw.
Incidentally, Ferrett asked why I was commenting on Mishra’s Workshop, but wasn’t complaining about Black Lotus. Was it because Lotus is”old school” and Workshop is”new”?
Well, could it simply be because you can’t have four copies of Lotus?
Raphael Caron, a.k.a. K-Run, said it best:”The problem is that we have a format where the brokeness of opening plays has become the norm. So, instead of having a normal hand and, once in a while, a broken hand, we have the opposite. It’s so easy to get a degenerate start that you’re pissed off if you don’t have it. To be competitive in T1 right now, you need broken starting hands.”
(Incidentally, I don’t trust R&D to make what they think are”Type I-specific” cards. No one there knows enough about Type I, and their little gift might prove more abusive than they realized. Then, we’re stuck with it until DCI says something, and no one knows whether or not they’re looking at the new mistake until they actually make a restriction.)
Type I Must Be Fun
This is an extremely simple bottom line, isn’t it?
The problem is, some people somehow end up arguing that you cannot be casual about Type I.
But, I don’t understand what they’re arguing against. What exactly is”casual” and what are we avoiding? What the hell did Ferrett mean when he said I implied people play”casually but seriously?”
True, there are cards we use now that we didn’t figure out a year ago, but calling Type I players casual in hindsight is like calling the United States primitive because it didn’t drop an atom bomb on Japan immediately after Pearl Harbor. So make no mistake that the community is exploring the format with a competitive mindset, and it has been even in the days of Beyond Dominia.
I’d like to ask, is proposing to change the rules for the format”casual but serious?”
I seriously doubt it, because these rules are in fact most relevant at the most competitive levels. Indeed, one proposes to change the rules when the most competitive decks make the game absurd.
One bad analogy you can make is the Japanese samurai. They were formidable warriors, but there was the little problem of a peasant with five minutes’ training and a musket quite able to kill a samurai with fifty years of experience with his katana. And so the daimyo tried in vain to ban gunpowder in Japan.
You might think they were cowardly, and they should have followed military technology to wherever it led because real life doesn’t wait for you to change your mind.
The analogy is bad, though, in that Magic is not real life. Type I is, underneath that expensive cardboard, a mathematical construct built for our entertainment. It’s a set of rules, which you can change, especially if some parts are proving absurd.
Nobody suddenly whips out a Glock in a karate tournament, right, even if that might be a very good move if assaulted in a dark alley?
So again, fun is literally the bottom line. Who’d buy a game that isn’t fun? (Yes, don’t forget that it’s just a game, people.)
A Little Experiment
We outlined a loose vision of Type I, so now, let me share the results of a little experiment. I sent an informal opinion poll on the post-Mirrodin metagame. Seven other Paragons and nine other players graciously replied, as tabulated behind this link. (The chart was so big that it broke our database, as Oscar is so wont to do – The Ferrett, who apparently was lying about his editorial interjections)
Interpreting The Results
My little experiment yields two striking results.
First, there really is no clear consensus on what to do with Type I right now. I took seventeen Type I players and ended with seventeen proposals, with both extremes and the middle represented.
Second, the majority of players seem to think that three to five cards should be restricted post-Mirrodin. Talk of restricting one card is headline material, so imagine how confused things are right now.
If anything, the little poll implies that Type I is at a turning point right now, and some action should be taken.
Chrome Mox, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Spoils of the Vault, Dark Ritual and Burning Wish are all proposals that recognize combo, especially Burning Academy, being too fast. The printing of Chalice of the Void isn’t everything, since the inherent randomness and absurdity is still there.
(Do note that anyone who proposes the restriction of Chalice is usually impliedly proposing to restrict at least Lion’s Eye Diamond as well, and the aim is reduction of collateral damage. Yes, we know Burning Academy is broken, and there’s no point starting a useless argument.)
You might be surprised at seeing Dark Ritual here, but rejecting this proposal outright is like saying Necropotence shouldn’t have been restricted because that killed”Classic” Necro. It’s twice as powerful as Lotus Petal, for example, and combo players know it. Ancestral Recall is the highest-profile member of the original cycle of threes (Healing Salve, Giant Growth, Dark Ritual, Ancestral Recall, and Lightning Bolt), but notice that Dark Ritual is as powerful as Ancestral in its tempo plane. It’s just slipped below everyone’s radar for so long because it’s most associated with a first-turn Hypnotic Specter or Phyrexian Negator.
Mishra’s Workshop scored a 9 + 2 out of 18, and this emphasizes that you cannot limit yourself to restricting only when the metagame degenerates to X and anti-X. Workshop is a permanent Dark Ritual, and remains one of the most potent unrestricted tempo cards in the game.
Workshop players argue that Workshop cannot fuel any of those explosive combo decks, but then you realize that neither did Fact or Fiction. Moreover, combo decks are watched carefully not necessarily because they can explode in one turn, but because they kill interactivity. Looking at this underlying rationale, you can note how Workshop decks can set up their”combo” of lock pieces as early as Turn 1 or Turn 2. Indeed, Stephen Menendian own Burning Academy article showed games where MUD could have won on Turn 1 by locking out a Burning Academy player on Turn 1.
Sorry if I didn’t spell out what I meant when I first said Workshop decks can be notoriously boring to play against.
Sure, boredom itself isn’t a reason to change the rules…. But the threat of consistently being placed in a position where you’d have to concede on Turn 1 or 2 is.
Finally, note that the”artifacts only” restriction has become an illusory restriction when you see decks with four Goblin Welders as the only colored cards. You get a sixth color with pieces of the other five’s slices of the pie, and zero color screw problems to the point that you can run City of Traitors and Petrified Field already. You have overcosted artifacts compensated by undercosted acceleration, and the latter arguably comes out ahead.
Academy Rector, Illusionary Mask, and Bazaar of Baghdad might be seen as”preemptive” restrictions to get the dirty deed done in one stroke. Rector is Yawgmoth’s Bargain’s equivalent of Tinker with the printing of Cabal Therapy, and is Burning Academy’s obvious backup plan in case of restrictions. Mask and Bazaar are longtime too-broken cards whose full power is only being felt today. A Mask deck can use acceleration and cheap disruption to play a 12/12 on Turn 1 or 2, while Bazaar is Dragon’s present engine and is arguably more powerful than Library of Alexandria at present.
Intuition requires further explanation, since some players see it as a move against Hulk Smash, while others see it as a move against Dragon.
Chalice of the Void is a minority position I’d like to take because of the collateral damage and how it attacks the concept of an efficient mana curve. I find it theoretically ridiculous how Chalice punishes you for playing the cheapest possible effects, yet undercosted removal and counters punish you for playing the more expensive equivalents. It helps decks with power acceleration, and discourages other approaches based around extremely cheap cards like the old Growing ‘Tog and older Chapin Grow decks. (And yes, it sure hurts a lot of budget decks.)
Raphael’s position on Mana Drain was explained in his letter last week, while Brian explained Cunning Wish by saying,”I don’t think the Wishes are out of hand right now, though time will tell with them.”
Finally, Psychatog is another minority position of mine. It’s a one-card combo that lets a control player get away with playing far fewer answers than normal, and no other win condition has made this possible. (Yeah, yeah, everyone knows I frown at Back to Basics and Blood Moon, too, because they can potentially kill a third of an opponent’s deck via virtual card advantage, a Necropotence level number.)
The State Of The Metagame
When you clicked on the link to this article, you probably saw the link to fellow Paragon Stephen Menendian‘sarticle on the front page. He and I both agree that Type I at present is so fast that you can either lose by Turn 2, or have an opponent set up by Turn 2 such that you may as well concede. He feels this is healthy evolution, and that we should all continue innovating to break the metagame.
I feel this is a sign of a narrow, absurd format.
Although the Tier I decks don’t revolve around the same cards, they certainly revolve around a very small number of overpowered ones. This stunts development, and encourages innovation in narrow avenues, since it’s very hard to beat the members of this small core of brokenness. For example, I saw an exchange on The Mana Drain where someone decried how aggro was no longer viable. Another regular answered that he was wrong, since he built an aggro deck by, essentially, taking MUD and putting Juggernaut and Su-Chi back in.
Somehow, having five different names for Workshop decks hardly strikes me as diversity.
By holding back the overpowered yet still unrestricted cards, one hopes to lower the benchmarks for various strategies, so that a number of diverse strategies replace the former lone, broken one. Again, something that lets you execute the strategy on Turn 2 is an incredibly hard standard to beat.
Well, if the game can be decided on Turn 2, that kind of consistent brokenness doesn’t leave much room for interaction, except for the handful of cards you can use to disrupt your opponent on Turn 1. A format where someone loses in two turns or opponents disrupt the hell out of each other until someone gets a two-turn break sounds terribly absurd to me.
The random factor here is incredibly magnified. Can you imagine losing a game because you mulliganed and still didn’t draw your Turn 1 hoser, for example? Or losing a game because you went second?
And remember, didn’t they precisely ban three cards in Extended because people were setting up to win by Turn 1 or 2? Land, Mox Diamond, Entomb, Reanimate, etc.?
Ferrett replied that the format right now is just pushing people to a higher level, and the raised eyebrows are comparable to what happens when someone in a multiplayer group becomes a far better player than his friends. Thing is, what happens if your multiplayer group plays with no restrictions?
Are you going to call people sloppy because they lost to the Mind’s Desire deck with four Black Lotus? In the same vein, I honestly doubt people are just sloppy if they are apprehensive about”Turn 2″ decks. Are you going to insist they strive to discover the Turn 1 kills to beat these? (I don’t think I’d bother, since even if I did, I’d just feel like the valedictorian of Sunday School, in Meyerspeak.)
As for rogue decks, I think they flourish best in Type I when the environment is broad and diverse enough. Let me just reprint the most recent”rogue” list I’ve come across in the public domain:
Angry? Hermit, Stephen Menendian, October test deck
1 Black Lotus
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Chrome Mox
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Diamond
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mana Crypt
4 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Forsaken City
2 Tarnished Citadel
Protecting your Druid (9)
4 Force of Will
1 Cabal Therapy (after you activate Druid)
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Deep Analysis
The Combo (11)
1 Animate Dead
1 Krosan Reclamation
1 Dragon’s Breath
1 Sutured Ghoul
3 Polar Kraken (only one extra for FOW bait)
4 Hermit Druid
Since I see the same broken artifact mana acceleration and eight free counters that parallel Duress or Unmask, I think this is as rogue in principle as a”The Deck” build that kills with a Phelddagrif.
Again, what should we do? Innovate towards faster kills, meaning Turn 1? I think there’s a point where you know where the metagame is taking you, and you should take the wheel from the driver already.
I mean, we now have a format where a 2/1 for one mana has long since been too weak.
My point is that Type I is too fast, and that proposing to slow it down is not a move to make Type I less competitive.
It’s a move to make Type I more realistic.
In short, a move towards a more diverse, more stable and more reasonable format, which will hopefully give us our fun and interactivity.
(And some other things, like Turn 3, Turn 4, Turn 5…)
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Team Paragons of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance