You CAN Play Type I #55: Unquiet Speculations

Just how out of touch am I with the mainstream Magic world? It hit me when I finally found the time to click to the Worlds coverage: I couldn’t relate to a single thing. And frankly, I blame the Sideboard.

Metagame choices

About an hour after I sent in last week’s column, Mike Guptil e-mailed, saying the decklists from the GenCon $250 had just been put up. This was the curious tournament where Pat Chapin had a field day with his now trademark deck that I’ve called Chapin Gro.

Pat Chapin, Chapin Gro, GenCon Type I $250 Champion, August 10, 2002

Creatures (8)

4 Ophidian

4 Quirion Dryad

Counters (14)

1 Divert

1 Disrupt

2 Daze

4 Force of Will

4 Misdirection

2 Foil

Others (19)

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

4 Gush

2 Merchant Scroll

1 Cunning Wish

1 Regrowth

4 Brainstorm

4 Slight of Hand

1 Opt

Mana (19)

4 Land Grant

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Tropical Island

4 Island

Sideboard (15)

1 Emerald Charm

1 Living Wish

3 Tormod’s Crypt

1 Morphling

1 Strip Mine

1 Hydro Blast

1 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Timetwister

1 Back to Basics

1 Divert

1 Seedtime

According to Eric“Danger” Taylor, Pat has refined the deck and has been quite proud of it. It looked like a fun pick against a field with removal-light control decks, and burn you can Misdirect onto weenies.

Finalist Brian Cox also had an interesting main deck: The structure followed a near-textbook build of powered Forbiddian with all the colorless Moxen. Apparently, he wasn’t able to borrow the last three Moxen, though, so he stuck in three extra Islands and swapped the Mana Leaks for Counterspells due to the extra colored mana. Anyway, no random, janky Prohibits there (apologies to Steve Menendian, a.k.a. Smmenen… couldn’t resist).

In other news, German website moderators Oliver Daems and Benjamin Rott, a.k.a. Teletubby, just topped”Dülmen’s Best,” rankings based on compiled Top 8s of the Type I Dülmen tournaments since January 2002. Oliver also won last weekend’s tournament – with a controllish Squirrel Craft build, no less.

Oliver has been looking at anti-German metagame deck for a while, and combo is great against an aggro-dominated field. Inspired, he happened to pick the first nonblue combo that came to mind, and stymied the Red Elemental Blasts you find in every deck with Mountains and Goblin Welders.

After I e-mailed my explanation of why he won, he just laughed and fired back,”Just wanted to point out that I won the whole thing by resolving green spells. When was the last time your opponent scooped because you resolved a green spell?”

Talk about metagame shifts!

Oliver Daems, SquirrelCraft, Champion, Dülmen August 25, 2002

Combo (8)

4 Earthcraft

4 Squirrel Nest

Counters (10)

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

2 Misdirection

Others (16)

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Merchant Scroll

2 Cunning Wish

1 Fact or Fiction

4 Impulse

4 Intuition

1 Regrowth

1 Sylvan Library

Mana (26)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Strip Mine

2 Wasteland

4 Tropical Island

4 Yavimaya Coast

6 Island

4 Forest

Sideboard (15)

2 Tormod’s Crypt

1 Counterspell

1 Hoodwink

1 Hurkyll’s Recall

1 Mana Short

1 Misdirection

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Teferi’s Response

1 Timetwister

1 Sylvan Library

1 Tangle

3 Wall of Roots

When Worlds doesn’t get a rise out of you

Two weeks ago, I took the freshman girls I mentor to lunch, chaperoned by my female classmates. Since my birthday was coming up, we went to this posh place in the penthouse of the Manila Stock Exchange towers. We had one hell of a view of the commercial district over baked oysters and bisque, and the freshmen sure needed it because they just survived their first wave of Law midterm exams.

(Like a proud adoptive bro, I have to note that my unassuming pupil got one of the highest scores in the Constitutional Law exam that royally screwed her classmates. Unfortunately, the main reason she didn’t top it was because she wasn’t listening when I pointed out a specific amended phrase in the post-Marcos Philippine Constitution, a few words that made all the difference in a Senate gridlock that hogged national headlines. She and her classmates cited the same ruling a former Senate president did in the papers, which turned out to be inapplicable. Oh well… She owes me lunch after final exams.)

Last week, I took my entire law class to a small chicken grill my aunt runs. Now, this archipelago has over 7,000 islands, and my family’s particular island has a wonderful variant where the chicken is marinated in oil and vinegar before grilling. Funny thing is that you have to watch the marinade and grill times very carefully, or the chicken turns bitter, rubbery, or some other disaster. My Dad made the good move, though, of luring actual Negros Island grillmen to Manila, so I got to see even the slimmest girls in my class start eating with their hands and wolf down double helpings.

Heck, they had so much fun they didn’t even notice that I forgot to buy a couple of cases of beer – my Dad did a double-take because I said we’d be taking an early lunch, and I had a grand time explaining that some girls in the class consider 9 a.m. a proper time to start drinking, midterms or no.

This week, I have three midterm exams and chained myself to my desk.

(Little law school note… You take the hint when your classmates take you out to see Insomnia and chip in for a gourmet coffee press for your birthday.)

So what does my social calendar have to do with Magic?

Absolutely nothing – and that’s the point.

I’ve always considered the game a hobby, and draw the line well before”turning Pro” or whatever you call spending your weekends at tourneys and playtesting two or three weeknights.

I had to admit that I just couldn’t muster the time, since even an FNM can eat up half a day in time and several days in money. Years back, I was working on two bachelor’s degrees at the same time. Since last year, I’ve been struggling to keep up in my country’s toughest law school.

And hell, there’s no way I can imagine myself spending my life savings to fly across the Pacific to play a card game – not even if I had Alex Shvartsman trade binders.

I joke that I can only make one tournament every six months, and that I’d play Sealed Deck because it involves the least familiarity with the latest cards. It’s gotten so bad that local organizer Felix Gonzales makes it a point to notify me about the rare Sealed PTQ, yet I still owe our ultimate nice guy TO a string of apologies for being absent from every single one. What little time I get to set aside now mostly goes to writing, since at least I don’t have to block off an entire day to finish an article (well, I do, but I can spread out the time and do it in the comfort of my own home).

Just how out of touch am I with the mainstream Magic world?

It hit me when I finally found the time to click to the Worlds coverage:

I couldn’t relate to a single thing.

It’s perfectly forgivable if the name Carlos Romao doesn’t ring a bell, but it scares you when you look at the Type II decklists and start scratching your head because the ‘Tog lists no longer look like what Zev Gurwitz used to post.

Now, you might say,”Who the hell cares? Oscar doesn’t play anything but Type I.”

That’s not completely true – but in any case, if I write”The Control Player’s Bible,” you’d imagine that I’d be very interested in a Worlds of Psychatog vs. Psychatog.

And I definitely was, between the last ‘Tog mirror feature Ben Bleiweiss wrote and EDT ranting about why his Milwaukee Trenches beat the old ‘Tog.

Moreover, I have to have an overview of the current formats. I write, and the easiest way to explain power levels and metagames is by taking the most current examples. I used Invasion Limited to discuss Type I mana bases, didn’t I?

And simply, any Magic player loves to follow a good game anyway.

But whatever… I found it a chore to slog through even the finals coverage.

Making it tough for spectators

Something just seemed to be missing. In between flips of my Civil Code, I realized that I hadn’t read, for example, a single article that detailed how ‘Tog decks evolved to pack Wishes. Not only is that an interesting development of a mechanic in itself, it gives me a more solid starting point to gauge how much I can afford to screw my sideboard in the much broader Type I metagame.

The only credible article I read that touched on the final Wish products was Mikey Pustilnik’s, but that was his Worlds report that came after the coverage I wasn’t able to appreciate.

I’m going to sound like a real dinosaur, but I just can’t help but think back to the Dojo days of just a few years back. You could always pick out a few brief posts updating you on developments from this PTQ or that States, and you could always fall back on the Decks to Beat compilations. And after every big tournament, you could count on tournament reports that detailed strategy aside – especially e-mail from the likes of Eric Taylor and Randy Buehler, which went down to details like why someone uses four Demonic Consultations and no Dark Rituals in his ancient Extended Necrodeck.

These days, you get one-page, on-the-fly, Captain Obvious”Deck Deconstruction”-esque deck tech writeups, and even Magic Invitational invitees don’t bother to say much in reports – if they write them.

Now again, you’re just going to say,”What the hell, Oscar; it’s your fault you don’t play Type II.”

I buy product, I know the game pretty well, and I spend some time on the hobby. I just don’t have the time to go to sanctioned tourneys – and there’s no way I’m spending a small fortune every block on chase cards I’m rarely ever going to play with before they rotate out.

Seriously, I just don’t have the time to playtest and familiarize myself with every possible archetype in the gauntlet. But again, I buy product just like any of you. Is it so much to ask that I get to find out what these new cards have been doing so I can appreciate them a bit more?

…That is, without sacrificing my already-meager social calendar?

I’m sure I’m not alone… Let’s take it from straight from Randy Buehler: Only 18% of Magic players are”into” or”love” the Pro Tour.

For the vast majority who can’t go through a credible Type II gauntlet with a playtest group, Magic is a spectator sport. They have to experience the truly competitive end of the spectrum vicariously.

And I haven’t been able to experience much vicariously, to put it bluntly.

The Dojo spirit has long since passed, and tech is no longer free. I’m not even looking for tech, and I’d settle for late, post-tourney recaps much like the Dojo deck histories. Of course, those aren’t free, either.

Who pays?

One scheme is to let the online stores do it. A site like Star City pays the writer, and takes it from what readers who turn into customers pay. Star City got Mikey P to turn in something wonderful, and a casually-interested reader like me gets to read it in exchange for browsing Star City’s stocks.

Not a bad deal… Except I didn’t get to see anyone else’s take on Worlds and ‘Tog.

The other scheme we’ve seen is to let the readers pay directly. In other words, Brainburst Premium.

Here, we supposedly get a little more content, like recaps from Zvi Mowshowitz and Kai Budde. Of course, I’m unwilling to pay for the same reason I beg off from Magic Online: Five years ago, we had this little problem called the Asian Crisis, and the Philippine peso is now half of what it used to be vis a vis the almighty dollar. I simply don’t think it’s responsible for a grad student who doesn’t have a full time job to blow his third-world currency on a first-world priced hobby, at least not on the extras over the actual booster packs.

But I don’t blame Brainburst. The people who accuse Brainburst of being some soulless capitalist machine are selfish idiots. (Tru dat – The Ferrett, who counts BB as a competitor)

From firsthand experience, I can tell you that putting together a credible Magic article can be as tough as writing up a legal article. One way of doing it is to spend a lot of time testing arguments, then even more time putting them down in a logical, comprehensive writeup.

The other way is to spend still more time in high-level competition, push your rating over 2100, and accumulate a wealth of experience along the way.

Either is a major investment in time, resources and even emotional baggage. Writers deserve to get paid, and they’ll never get paid enough compared to how important they are to maintaining people’s interest in the game.

Anyway, even with Premium, it seems that the picture isn’t broadened all that much. Plus you have the downside of having a small but quite interesting part of the picture like Zvi’s columns hidden behind that gold Premium graphic – meaning it’s removed from the collective consciousness.

That is, you can’t refer to the Premium columns when you write, since a lot of people won’t know what they said anyway.

Where’s the Sideboard?

I don’t blame Star City for all the gimmicks and advertising. I don’t blame Brainburst for charging. The alternative is for the writers themselves to foot the bill for your articles by writing for you in exchange for nothing.

But maybe I blame Sideboard Online.

If, after the demise of The Dojo and then Mindripper, we simply haven’t been able to find a steady source of strategy articles, then who should foot the bill?

Why not Wizards?

You’d imagine that if 0.1% of the price of every booster pack sold went to paying credible writers, they could get something going. They already spend thousands in marketing for ESPN spots and the Pro Tour itself – so what’s a few hundred more for articles? I think Magic has developed worldwide to the point that we expect some support aside from the cards in the packs.

The Sideboard has failed miserably. Sure, you have live coverage of all the big events, but it’s one thing to know how players went through their games and quite another to visualize it and get behind a guy’s head to figure out why a play was right or wrong.

Heck, I went through the coverage and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they meant when they said the Latin Americans broke the metagame by not countering card drawing in a control matchup. It only made (some) sense when Randy Buehler noted it in his last column.

I’m sure I’m not a newbie – but if that’s what I get out of Worlds coverage, then maybe the coverage itself isn’t marketing the game well enough. They hammered on this mysterious strategy by the Latin Americans and I couldn’t get it? Maybe we should leave the development notes to Rosewater and force Buehler back to his old writing topics.

Taking a broader perspective, you can see that a lot went into MagictheGathering.com, and no one can deny that Aaron Forsythe and crew are doing an incredible job exploring a facet of player interest no one really thought to touch on before. But no matter how much we love learning about codenames like Guacamole and artists’ inside jokes, having a dearth of strategy material gives you the impression that the selection of Magic articles is a hot sportscar with leather seats and a brand new chrome job – but no engine.

Yes, let’s take a look at Sideboard, aside from coverage.

I haven’t even seen Brian Kibler or Alex Shvartsman do one of those brief deckbuilding overviews in a while, and that was pretty much it barring the nonregular surprise features.

I haven’t seen Gary Wise Limited article in a longer while, and Alex seems to be taking over.

And Sideboard has never featured tourney reports, except for the mixed bag from the Invitationals.

So what’s left… Confessions from Mike Long and testimonials from Gary Wise?

So you can understand why I’m beginning to need to read more than where Guacamole and Jack came from.

(And if I understand it right, everyone was playing OBC or tinkering with Magic Online while only the Worlds invitees were thinking about Type II. I guess that makes”official” coverage a bit more important.)

And again, the coverage isn’t always great… just take a look at the Cape Town Invitational (a.k.a.”the Jeweled Bird Fiasco,” at least from Type I players’ perspectives). I do wonder if the Magic Online Invitational will give us a more concrete picture of how the invitees play, much like Apprentice can create logs for review.

For me, one gauge to say coverage is good is if I can learn the nuances of playing a deck from it. Take a look at something as simple as this:

J1: Plays Rocky Tar Pit

L1: Plays Swamp

J2: Plays Mountain. Sacrifices Rocky Tar Pit to get a Swamp. Casts a Black Guildmage.

L2: Plays Island

J3: Plays a Mountain. Casts Coercion, forcing Long to discard a Cadaverous Bloom. Attacks with Guildmage 20/19

L3: Plays an Undiscovered Paradise

J4: Casts Stupor, randomly discarding a Cadaverous Bloom, and Long chooses to discard an Island. Attacks with Guildmage 20/18

L4: Plays a second Undiscovered Paradise

J5: Plays a Mountain. Casts Coercion, forcing Long to discard a Prosperity. Attacks with Guildmage 20/17

L5: Does nothing

J6: Casts Talarum Minotaur. Long Memory Lapses it. Attacks with Guildmage 20/16

L6: Does nothing

J7: Casts Talarum Minotaur again. Long Power Sinks it. Attacks with Guildmage 20/15

L7: Does Nothing

J8: Casts Necromancy on the Minotaur. Attacks with the Minotaur and the Guildmage 20/11. Long remarks”I shouldn’t have made that deck” Long casts Vampiric Tutor to put a Squandered Resources on top of his deck. 20/9

L8: Casts Squandered Resources. Casts Natural Balance, sacrificing all the land for mana (Long gets 2 Forests, 1 Island and 2 Swamps, Justice gets a single Mountain). Casts Infernal Contract 20/4 (drawing Infernal Contract, Vampiric Tutor, Impulse and an Island). Casts Impulse, taking a Cadaverous Bloom. Casts Cadaverous Bloom. Casts Vampiric Tutor (Prosperity), Justice responds with an Incinerate 20/-2. Casts Infernal Contract 20/-2, drawing Prosperity and three cards. Casts Prosperity for six. Casts Infernal Contract 20/-2. Long doesn’t draw another card drawer or his Drain Life, and so concedes the first game to Justice.

Mark Justice 1, Michael Long 0

This isn’t even real coverage as we know it today; this was just lifted from e-mailed notes from Paul Barclay dated April 21, 1997.

The notes described – simply but vividly and effectively – Game 1 of the finals of Pro Tour Paris ’97. Mike Long was playing ProsBloom, arguably the most complex deck of its time.

That simple e-mail got me to go to my local store owner and pick up the combo components before the price went up.

I never played that ProsBloom deck in a tournament, but I put it together. Because of just one simple e-mail posted on the Dojo.


One last note… you might still ask,”What the hell, Oscar? You’re encouraging lazy netdecking.”

Well, maybe I am.

But take note, I have no intentions of playing competitively anytime soon.

Again, I’m just saying that I’ve been enjoying the game less. So maybe netdecking has a valid place in enjoying the game.

Take it from my law student perspective: I could decide to read every court ruling from all the way back to the King’s Bench in England (that is, before the American Constitution was written). Maybe even the Roman Empire, for good measure.

Or I could flip open a textbook and look at an organized reading list.

One way will get me a law degree. The other way will get me a nervous breakdown, but no law degree.

Going back to Magic, it’s humanly impossible to playtest each and every new mechanic by yourself, and test and discount every possible archtype and variant. Your Net information gives you a solid starting point, not just of your own deck, but of the opposition. Without it, you begin to reward only those people who turn their houses into Magic colonies.

And you alienate people like me, who just want to know how ‘Tog plays these days.

It’s the same idea for, say, Limited. I wouldn’t fork over the equivalent of lunch for a week to play a four-round FNM draft if I didn’t at least skim Gary Wise (or whoever will end up doing it) picks. Last time I tried it, I didn’t have the set memorized, and I was seated between Manila’s head judge and a player we sent to Worlds. It was so funny because I had to read cards a lot, while my opponent Mario Padua could tell me what instants I had in hand based on when I’d pause in combat and what mana I left open – he had the common plays memorized in addition to the cards and card art. (Hell, he even knew what to rare draft…)

And no, all these seemingly random”my Judgment picks” articles won’t convince me… I skimmed some of them and I thought some were talking about The Dark-Homelands-Unglued draft.

I’m a Type I player, and if I don’t buy your Judgment picks…

Personally, I’ve always tried to be extremely thorough and comprehensive when discussing Type I archetypes. This is especially after I received mail from guys that go:”Hi, Oscar, I think you’re doing a great job. I have two kids and can’t playtest much, but I can enjoy these archetypes you illustrate without having to playtest a lot.”

Hey, if I give a reader some quality time with the kids, then I’m happy to do the substitute playtesting.

Unfortunately, unless Wizards pays someone to do my Type II playtesting for me (off what I pay them for cards), maybe I won’t even bother to skim next year’s Worlds Coverage.

The long-term result may be losing a sort of common Magic heritage. In the Dojo’s time, it was easy to peek at the Decks to Beat or the tourney reports, the deck histories, and the brief commentaries. You could spend ten minutes and have a good idea of what the metagame looked like any given month. Spend a few hours and you could recreate two years’ worth of development in an archtype like Sligh or White Weenie.

These days, I just don’t know what exactly a guy means when he refers to U/B/r ‘Tog strategy, and I wonder if people will have a hard time going back to the current Type II winning decks when they dissect them for Extended two years from now.

Oscar Tan

[email protected]

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

Manila, Philippines

Forum Administrator, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi)

Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)

Author of the Control Player’s Bible (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bdominia/files/ControlBible.zip)

Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.starcitygames.com/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi?az=list&forum=DCForumID89&conf=DCConfID19)

Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)