To paraphrase George Santayana, those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
If so, let’s hope Mark Rosewater didn’t get a life sentence.
“Type I week” opened with”Type I, Take 2“, a reprint of Rosewater’s original Type I column with additional comments inserted.
(For reference, this was my reaction, written in July 2002, to the original column, plus the spoof I wrote shortly before Rosewater’s real column was released.)
Needless to say, this treatment was underwhelming and disappointing, and gives the impression that Rosewater had nothing new to say, and note they even had to ask if we wanted to know why they restricted Chrome Mox, Burning Wish and Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Rosewater is practically singing the same old song. We listened intently the first time, but now, despite the obvious good intentions behind his latest column, we’re just bored.
Instead of reprinting my own reaction, let me take up some of Mark’s”new” points:
“I don’t claim to understand Type I, so please tell me all about it”
Mark never claimed to understand Type I.
Type I players never claimed he did.
Mark never claimed it was part of his job description.
Type I players never claimed it was.
I discussed this extensively in”Maximizing Mirrodin, Part VII“, where I told reader Alan Collinson:
“I don’t think anyone really knows how to design cards for Type I… However, I think no one has to know how to.
“[E]ach new set showcases a clear focus on a new mechanic or less-explored area of the game. A lot of the time, something from each of these filters up to Type I. Now, you might consider one card from an entire mechanic or cycle, but remember you’re pitting it against thousands of older cards. The moment, say, half the cards in an expansion are Type I superstars is the day Wizards is desperate to stay in business.”
Again, my position has always been that R&D doesn’t need to try to understand Type I in order to design cards, since the new trails they blaze into the game’s mechanics end up breaking new ground in Type I, anyway. If they try it and screw up because they have incomplete or mistaken knowledge, we’ll only be worse off.
Thus, if anyone criticizes Rosewater, it would be because of mistaken assumptions about the format passed off as fact in a column. If that happens, then it would be a fair criticism, because it’s misleading at best and insulting at worst. If I suddenly wrote that Affinity Stompy is the deck to beat in Type II right now, you’d start hurling bricks at me, too, right?
I’d simply prefer to hear someone at Wizards simply admit that Type I is an area they don’t fully understand, but are very willing to get people’s ideas. It’s more sincere, less patronizing, and simply more positive. It’d also be true.
Rosewater, however, ended on this note:
“This is why I strongly urge Type I players (or to be fair supporters of any format) to take the time to publicly write about the format. A well written article that takes care to stress problems and solutions using clear, practical examples can have a huge impact.”
Now, this is where the article stopped seeming patronizing and started seeming insulting.
To the few Type I fans who take it upon themselves to write and publicize the format, this is the parallel of telling the world that the best Type I players to date still play with Serra Angels and Juzam Djinns.
It’s a gigantic bitch slap on the face, to StarCityGames.com more than any site, in fact.
This year, we’ve witnessed a welcome explosion of Type I articles, from first impressions of novices to the comprehensive, lovingly compiled mini-books on various archetypes. The repercussions of Mirrodin alone were discussed to death, led by a number of the Paragons including reigning Type I champ Carl Winter, and the issues’ two poles were marked by my”State of the Metagame Address” last October, and Steve Menendian’s”Old Format, New Conflict“.
So what is Mark trying to say?
That the Type I community has yet to produce”well written” articles with”clear, practical examples”?
That he doesn’t know Type I articles exist?
That it isn’t part of his job description to know Type I articles exist?
I would counter that the designers Wizards has chosen to publicize on MagictheGathering.com do not answer e-mail queries by people who want to write about Type I. I have yet to receive an e-mail response to any such query and have given up expecting any. Frankly, it’s hard to talk about solutions or even problems if you have no idea where R&D and the DCI are coming from on Type I. [To be fair, I sometimes have trouble answering e-mails promptly, and I only get a fraction of the amount that writers for MagicTheGathering.com get. – Knut]
Again, Type I players have been complaining ad infinitum that DCI never publishes the reasons behind changes to the Banned/Restricted List beyond a few terse sentences, and we have a key Wizards figure complaining that the community doesn’t write articles?
Finally, I would caution that well written articles are meant more to educate players on strategy than they are to substitute for extensive playtesting. Even the most exhaustive article is just a single person or group’s dots on the metagame’s statistical charts, and the best explanation does not necessarily mean that all the premises are correct. (Parenthetically, a lot of good Type I players are European students for whom English is not a first language.)
If Mark is implying that Type I articles are an important influence on their decisions due to their resource constraints, it becomes all the more important for them to tell us what premises they’re accepting from these, if any. There really is no substitute for doing a little homework before all is said and done, and in the absence of a real global tournament circuit, half an hour of goldfishing a netdecked Burning Desire on Apprentice alone would make a big difference.
“Type I is the old timer’s format”
The second section of Mark’s article associates Type I with the year 1994.
This is, again, patronizing and myopic.
It implies that Type I players have been playing since 1996, at the latest, and are reliving some bygone age. If this were true, though, then a lot of Type I fans should be in Belgian Paragon Carl Devos’s age group (thirties and married with children). The”young” players should be as old as Brian Weissman or myself, a rough 23-28 age group.
But, this isn’t accurate, and I know because I get my own e-mails from fellow Type I players or Magic players in general who have become very interested in the format. I’ve also been to a couple of local tournaments.
I don’t have solid statistics, but I’m sure we have a fair following in the 16-21 age bracket, with some players even younger. For example, note the number of undergraduate university students who send me letters, and the number of people more concerned with budget play than anything else.
So, please, while the roots of the game are both important and nostalgic, let’s avoid implying that Type I is dominated by dinosaurs coming back after they quit during Urza’s Saga. It only creates a needless, counterproductive but wholly artificial divide.
Oh, and I know a lot of Type I players who love to draft and have stellar Limited ratings.
“We’re not having a Type I Pro Tour. Ever.”
Optimists and pessimists alike were happy with the Type I Championship last GenCon, and it was truly a big step for the format. Nevertheless, I think the people who are most active in Type I accept that a Pro Tour or some other international event is simply not feasible, or at least not yet.
Everything Rosewater said on this point is true and beyond debate. (I’d also add that there are pros and cons to using reader e-mails as a source. One big con is that if you don’t know the Type I community, the last Dülmen champ has as much of a voice as the precocious twelve-year old who picked up the game yesterday, but writes very well. Of course, with the less developed formal circuit, it’s really not easy to figure out who’s who.)
Further, I think everyone also accepts that”Type I” means”competitive Type I” and we’re not talking about holding a Casual Type I Pro Tour to showcase the cutting edge in casual tech.
However, what is not discussed is even more important than what is reiterated.
Again, Type I cannot afford to get fixated on a single, large annual tournament. We have yet to see, for example, substantial Type I support at the store level, and nothing compared to how easy it’s become to hold a sanctioned draft on the fly. I’ll point out that not everyone is in a position to take a long drive to GenCon – or in the case of the Europeans, fly – for that annual tournament. Moreover, only with a vigorous grassroots-level following can you credibly feed that one big tournament, if that’s your ultimate goal and benchmark.
To give the example closest to my heart, the fledgling Manila circuit has, to date, not attracted less than fifty players in a sanctioned tournament.
Admittedly, only Glenson Lim and myself have both power and extensive knowledge of the Type I metagame. However, there are very nasty budget decks showing up such as Stax, Burning Desire and Goblins, and they are only moving higher along the learning curve each month.
In short, we’re not getting a Type I Pro Tour.
The question remains: But what are we getting?
If you’re thumbing down the Pro Tour with all the good reasons in the world, do the same apply to FNM?
“We’re not going to reprint Black Lotus. Ever.”
Rosewater’s emphasis on reprints was unnecessary, since their own Aaron Forsythe said it best. To reprint part of Forsythe’s letter, originally published in”Mana Drain to be Reprinted in Eighth Edition“:
“Why can’t people accept the idea of never reprinting the power cards? Why do they cling to hope? Believe me, this company wants to make money, and I’m sure we could spike sales dramatically by reprinting old cards, whether in tourney-legal form or even different backs. But it’s such a bigger issue than that, the integrity, and it’s a bad idea for the long-term, especially because it pulls so much focus from what Magic is like now, that only bad things would happen. Do people not see that?”
Oh, we see it, all right. And we accept that the moment, say, dual lands are reprinted in a tournament-legal expansion, it’s a sign that Magic is on its way to a slow death.
If reprinting them in a non-legal expansion with different backs might offend collectors and devalue cards, we can also accept that statement.
Nevertheless, the issue of proxies remains a very contentious minefield in the community. One thing for sure is that the players who do own all the cards would be more than willing to play in a tournament that allows proxies, if only to ensure there are worthy opponents – or opponents of any sort, for that matter. It’s one way of counteracting the high entry barriers Rosewater discussed, since you can at least try to develop skill before encouraging people to go out and find the cards for their collections.
Clearly, there are people who want to play, and there are a lot more people who just want to see a Type I deck in action. (Since I play”The Deck”, I can attest to the number of opponent’s who’ve asked me to kill them just so they can see how I’d do it.)
Without rehashing the entire proxy debate here, one thing I can’t understand is why Wizards hasn’t picked up the idea I’ve been proposing for the longest time: Commemorative decks.
I’m not talking about cards with different backs in expansion packs here. I’m talking about pre-constructed decks, gold borders and all. From experience, the original Collector’s Edition and the World Championship decks have not affected the value of the real cards, so maybe Wizards is seeing shadows, much as we laud their concern for corporate integrity. With the new card face in addition to gold borders (and maybe new art if they have to get around royalty issues), I’d be willing to take an intelligent risk on my Beta cards’ value, and I count myself a collector.
This proposal is very different from the Chronicles reprints that did affect the secondary market. The potential gain is also very different, and I can’t think of a single better move that would make Type I (skill if not the real cards) more accessible, more legitimate, and more mainstream.
We might even see an end to the inane coin-flip jokes, though it’s actually stopped in Manila after they held a couple of sanctioned tourneys.
Most importantly, I don’t think it would cost Wizards much, especially not compared to the profit they stand to make given the players of all walks who’d buy such commemorative decks.
Incidentally, you now have something to commemorate. Visualize a boxed set featuring Carl Winter Hulk Smash, Shane Stoots’ Vengeur Masque, Dave Allen’s Tainted Mask, Richard Mattiuzzo’s Dragon and Kevin Cron’s Stax, with maybe December 2003 builds of”The Deck”, Burning Desire, and a mono-Red or mono-Black deck thrown in. I don’t think you can go wrong.
Again, we’ve debated what we can’t do to death. It’s time we talked about the next moves.
And again, all this has been said so many times over in various articles and forum threads. I’m not saying anything new here, either.
“Richard Garfield’s vision is still very much in force.”
I don’t think there was ever any debate, and we all love change. We only complain when the changes end up making Type I degenerate, and consider everything from Fact or Fiction to Mind’s Desire.
Again, we loved everything from the Wishes to Onslaught fetchlands.
“I’ve tried designing Type I cards.”
What was that?
This was the most important bit of”new” insight Rosewater provided. The problem is, he talked about everything but what they had in mind and what these Type I-oriented cards were in the first place.
Moreover, he’s asking for feedback weeks after all the rants and raves on Chalice of the Void, Chrome Mox, Isochron Scepter, Spoils of the Vault, and quite a number of other cards all the way to Shrapnel Blast and Slith Firewalker have found their way into various decks?
No one has the time to fly over there to Washington and deliver a neat little twelve-module Powerpoint presentation,”Type I for Dummies.” But, do recognize the Star City Type I Tech center and the handful of other Type I sites, namely TheManaDrain.com.
Again, my stand is that R&D should either try to fully understand the Type I metagame, or not even make the attempt. The half-baked, halfway try will only do more damage, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Rosewater’s latest Type I column was characterized by good intentions and an open attitude, but too many parts came off as patronizing, and he said nothing new overall. He merely recognized a few points about Type I and its following and reiterated many more points, but hardly opened doors for the truly important issues for the future.
Hopefully, another R&D member will outline these unsaid future issues, and maybe Randy Buehler upcoming column will offer more insight on the present.
To end, we really need to discuss how we’re going to move forward in 2004 and then in 2005. Type I is as much a part of Magic as any other format, relative size of the player base aside.
In a way, I appreciated Kai Budde recent Brainburst article,”Bring on the Soldiers: White Control in Standard” more than Mark Rosewater. There, he featured a Roland Bode Type II deck that featured Plains and Urza lands, and introduced Roland as someone far better known in Type I circles, and the man who got Gush restricted.
Kai said this as though noting the credentials of an up-and-coming rookie or a lesser-known Pro. Saying nothing more was a simple acknowledgement of the German Type I community’s place. I think Kai’s done what we all want less Type I-focused players to do for our format: Walk into a Type I tournament and consider it the most ordinary thing in the world.
Till next week!
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Paragon of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
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