I could’ve used this space to kick off a heckuva rant about the state of Standard in the wake of States and the Scars of Mirrodin rotation. In fact, I
bet many of you are surprised I haven’t, considering the evidence available. Perusing the awesome StarCityGames.com
for 2010s, it would be easy to get angry… the top non-land card played in Top 8 decks is Jace, the Mind Sculptor, currently selling for $85. Next is Mana Leak (which could prompt a side rant about overpowered blue), but then we have Primeval Titan, currently selling for $40, to further get worked up about overpowered and super-expensive mythics.
However, I’m not going to get angry and rant, because… what good will it do?
When I was a teenager through my early 20s, I had quite a temper. Oh, how I’d get angry and worked up about things, and when I’d go out drinking with my friends, I’d often end the night blowing up in a fury or getting super-depressed. A lot of my friends even suggested that I might have some serious issues that I needed to get professional help to resolve and that I might even have a drinking problem.
One day, though, I had a revelation. The brain is truly an amazing thing, often working through complex issues in the background while you go about your day doing the things you do, and apparently my brain had been trying to figure out the root cause of my anger issues, because it just suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks
I was getting so upset.
I had set up unrealistic expectations.
At heart, I’m a teddy bear—a big, fluffy, bleeding heart nice guy who gets a lot of joy out of being there for others. If I can make someone else happy, I’m happy too. It’s just the way I’m hardwired. So when it comes to being someone’s friend, I’m all in—if you need to talk, I’m always there; if you need a place to crash, mi casu su casa; if you like a girl, I steer clear. Even when we’re not hanging out together, you’re still going to cross my mind—I may see something I know you’d like or hear about something you’d want to know about, and I’d make a note to let you know about it.
Naturally, being young, foolish, and idealistic, I assumed that my personal definition of what being a friend means was universal, and when so many of my friends constantly failed to meet my expectations of what their friendship should entail,* it made me angry sometimes and sad sometimes. Alcohol of course amplified those feelings.
Realization hit me like a boot to the head—I’d set up a situation whereby I was constantly going to be disappointed. I couldn’t expect so many of these friends to change and suddenly transform themselves into “better friends” – to live by standards I’d set for myself. Nor should I expect that.
The solution to my problem was obvious—I could either jettison my friends and be a far lonelier man or I could adjust my expectations, dial down what I expected from these guys, and accept what they had to offer. I ended up doing a mixture of the two, and everyone soon remarked at how much more happy and fun I was socially.
I’ve come to two similar revelations lately regarding Magic. One is in regards to Elder Dragon Highlander and the playing of cards and strategies that run counter to what I’ll call “traditional-style” EDH. I’m a huge fan and proponent of the traditional-style EDH, and I’d find people who played more competitive, cutthroat, “Spikier” EDH decks annoying and aggravating. Lord knows I’ve written quite a few columns here both vigorously attacking that style of play or just trying to quietly push people in my direction.
But then I realized—perhaps I’m hanging too much of my enjoyment on unrealistic expectations? Why begrudge people who prefer an EDH play style different from my own? Am I really going to change their minds through harsh words or even thoughtful reasoning? I’ve changed my expectations regarding what I look for in playing EDH and the fans of the format, and I think it’s made me a happier EDH player.
Similarly I’ve come around on mythics. While I still think they’re bad for the game long-term, and while I still grind my teeth in frustration whenever Wizards prints a new overpowered, chase mythic, what’s the point in spending so many of my column inches ranting about it? I used to believe that having a column here on StarCityGames.com gave me a visible platform whereby I could voice the concerns of Magicians like myself, the casually competitive players who absolutely love the game but don’t have the time and resources you need to reach the higher levels of the game. I thought that odds were pretty good that at least one person’s eyeballs in the hallowed halls in Renton would read my words and take our concerns into consideration. I’m pretty sure that used to be the case some years ago… but logic would indicate that’s probably not the case anymore.
How could it be? We know that many of the people at Wizards spend some portion of their day reading what people are writing about Magic and that they’ve been doing that for many, many years. It’s a great feedback loop and sometimes a good recruiting tool to find fresh and bright new minds to help them make the game better. Back in the day, there weren’t all that many places to go to read quality writing about Magic, but StarCityGames.com was one of them, and I’ve always been here, voicing my thoughts and opinions.
Things have changed quite a bit since then—there are so many great voices writing about Magic, not just here at SCG but all around the web. And it’s not just more columns out there to wade through, but there are smart and talented Magicians putting their thoughts on blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter. It’s hard to keep up even if you have a bunch of free time, and I doubt the guys who make Magic aren’t busy.
The good folks at Wizards still have as much work to do as they ever had, even more so with the extra products like the Duel Decks, multiplayer variants, and such. The time they can dedicate to reading what people are writing about Magic has probably remained relatively constant… and yet the
out there has exploded in the past couple years, and so much of it is actually well worth reading. Unfortunately there are only so many “eyeball hours” WotC folks can likely dedicate to digesting that content.
I have to be realistic and realize that, when crunched for time, is Wizards going to choose to see what Bennie Smith has to say about Magic this week over what Pat Chapin or Brian Kibler or Conley Woods or Mike Flores has to say? Ultimately, the voices of the professional Magic players hold a lot more weight with the guys in Wizards – and, considering how many of them used to play professionally, that’s not surprising.
Which brings me back around to—what’s the point of ranting about stuff here in my column? I know my rants tend to generate a ton of feedback in the forums, and a lot of emails from my readers, and while I’m not privy to information like the number of “hits” my columns get, I imagine when I rant, my hits probably go up as well. Yep, I can generate serious heat, but am I generating any light? Am I actually contributing towards any sort of solution?
Writing here at StarCityGames.com has always been an honor for me, but it’s also a privilege. I can’t afford to spend space here doing anything that’s not going to do something positive for the Magic community. It’s not fair to my boss, and it’s not fair to my readers.
This isn’t to say that I won’t ever rant about anything, ever. There might be an important issue that comes up that needs to be talked about, and maybe my voice can be useful in helping drive the conversation. But ranting just to vent isn’t very useful.
This brings us back around to… the Card Summary from States. There’s no point in begrudging the fact that high-dollar mythics are defining the format—that’s a fact that no amount of anger or disappointment is going to change. Instead of focusing on the top of the Card Summary for the 2010s and stressing about it, wouldn’t it be much more fun and relaxing to scroll down to the bottom of the list to find some interesting cards that no one is really talking much about?
Cards appearing as ‘4 of’ in one Top 8 deck at States:
Bestial Menace , Surreal Memoir , Iron Myr , Treasure Hunt , Pyromancer Ascension , Elite Vanguard , White Knight , Honor of the Pure , Armored Ascension , Growth Spurt , Rampaging Baloths , Gigantiform , Thrummingbird , Mitotic Slime , Gaea’s Revenge , Leyline of Vitality , Ajani’s Pridemate , Kor Cartographer , Garruk’s Companion , Hideous End , Guul Draz Assassin , Blade of the Bloodchief , Vampire Lacerator , River Boa , Hada Freeblade , Chandra’s Spitfire , Mass Polymorph , Glint Hawk Idol
Cards appearing as ‘3-4 of’ in two Top 8 decks at States:
Steppe Lynx , Kazandu Blademaster , Dragonskull Summit , Vines of Vastwood , Tunnel Ignus , Bloodthrone Vampire , Manic Vandal , Kuldotha Rebirth , Galvanic Blast , Blackcleave Cliffs , Elemental Appeal
Cards appearing as ‘3-4 of’ in three Top 8 decks at States:
Assault Strobe , Kozilek’s Predator , Viscera Seer , Zektar Shrine Expedition , Grasp of Darkness , Brave the Elements , Awakening Zone , Beastmaster Ascension , Lavaclaw Reaches , Dark Tutelage , Lux Cannon
Cards appearing as ‘3-4 of’ in four or five Top 8 decks at States:
Devastating Summons , Nantuko Shade , Kor Duelist , Goblin Chieftain , Inquisition of Kozilek , Mind Sludge, Student of Warfare , Kalastria Highborn , Duress , Vampire Nighthawk , Acidic Slime , Captivating Vampire
This is quite an interesting list of cards! My editor would probably kill me if I put up a deck for each card on this list, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt to pick out some of the cards I’m most curious about and highlight a deck that played them.
The first card that jumped out at me was four copies of Gigantiform—wha? Of course, if you think about it, in a world where 6/6 Titans rule, having an 8/8 trampler for five mana is a pretty good deal! A quick search of our deck database showed me this gem from Alaska, which also featured the four copies of Rampaging Baloths:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Rampaging Baloths
- 4 Avenger of Zendikar
- 4 Primeval Titan
As a green lovin’ mage, I’ve definitely been curious about trying my hand at Genesis Wave, which has certainly been making a bit of noise of late, mostly in Elf builds as a method for generating card advantage out of the boatloads of mana. Douglas went more like the Green Ramp decks here; though outside Harrow, all the ramp spells are little green creatures I’d personally be worried about surviving in a burn-heavy world. Of course, drawing a Gigantiform when your only creature is an Overgrown Battlement is rather awkward, so I’m not sure swapping them in would be the best idea. Harrow also looks questionable given how backbreaking it would be to run it into a Mana Leak or Spell Pierce and how sad it would be to reveal off a small Genesis Wave. Khalni Heart Expedition would probably be better.
Interesting card: Thrummingbird
When working on decks for States with the Johnny Fever Project, one idea that intrigued me was cooking up a proliferate deck, and Thrummingbird was one of the cards I knew would be good in it. The trick of course was to make sure the deck was good without relying on a 1/1 surviving long enough to attack a couple times, so I was intrigued to find this deck, also from Alaska:
I think most of us suspect that Everflowing Chalice along with proliferate (especially Contagion Clasp) is going to end up being a part of some potent deck at some point; maybe it starts here? Of course, the big elephant in the room here is “where’re your Jaces?” After all, if you’re proliferating, why not crank up loyalty counters, too? Still, Gunnar’s success without JTMS suggests you don’t necessarily need to mortgage your soul to play blue.
There’s been some decent buzz regarding Gaea’s Revenge the past few weeks, and after chewing over adding it to the Gigantiform deck, I was certainly interested in seeing what deck ran four copies of it maindeck! Turns out it was also the same deck that ran Mitotic Slime, hmmm…
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 2 Arbor Elf
- 2 Joraga Treespeaker
- 2 Pelakka Wurm
- 4 Gaea's Revenge
- 4 Mitotic Slime
- 2 Primeval Titan
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
I definitely feel for whoever had to categorize this deck upon entering it in the deck database. While it does employ lots of mana Elves, at twelve Elves total, I think you could hardly call this an Elf deck. To be more accurate, you’d probably have to call this the Big Green Monster Mash, where the Elves tap sideways and then step out of the way for the Big Green Monsters to come crashing through. I like how the Slimes and the Wurmcoil Engine can break apart to help feed the Monument if need be.
As a fan of little green men, I’m often sad to see them get swept up by cruel, vicious cards like Pyroclasm and Forked Bolt, so Leyline of Vitality has been on my radar as something I’d be interested in running main in the right deck. This deck from Canada did just that:
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Baneslayer Angel
- 2 Elvish Archdruid
- 3 Soul's Attendant
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 2 Obstinate Baloth
- 2 Primeval Titan
This decklist is sure to give highly disciplined deckbuilders heartburn, but I imagine the list is quite fun and varied to play and sure laughs off Memoricide, don’t it? Tokens + life gain just might be the right combination to smash your local metagame a time or two.
Interesting card: Beastmaster Ascension
I’ve been killed with Beastmaster Ascension a few times, enough to be very aware at how powerful the card can be, so when it showed up in the list above, I was very curious to see what sort of Beastmaster Ascension decks made Top 8. I thought Trey Ballew’s was most interesting:
Most of the builds centering around Quest for the Holy Relic and Argentum Armor tend to be built to be hyper-aggressive and all about the early game, exchanging stability for explosiveness. I’ve been kicking around some ideas about making a slower but hopefully more reliable deck around the Quest that also uses Fauna Shaman, so I found this deck quite interesting. Adding Beastmaster Ascension to the mix reminds me of Jay Delazier’s “Thopter Stompy” deck from about a year ago that leaned heavily on early Ornithopter attacks to help fuel the Ascension, at it seems to have quite nice synergy here, along with Fauna Shaman/Squadron Hawk/Vengevine.
Interesting card: Dark Tutelage
Many of us looked at Dark Tutelage in the hopes of it being the new Phyrexian Arena or Dark Confidant… but the pain… ah, the pain! Most of us looked at Dark Tutelage and ultimately decided it was too painful to be worth it… but there were three players that rode the enchantment to their Top 8. Here’s one of them:
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Vampire Hexmage
- 3 Vampire Nighthawk
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 1 Captivating Vampire
Vampires has the dual benefit of having lots of small, synergistic creatures that don’t hurt too terribly bad to draw off the enchantment and also providing some life gain back in the form of Vampire Nighthawk and Kalastria Highborn. Matthew even squeezes some Bloodchief Ascensions into the mix! Reminds me a bit of the mono-black deck my friend Kevin Davis used to qualify for Nationals some years back, when I tried desperately to talk him out of playing four Kokushos in the same deck as Dark Confidant, despite his Sensei’s Divining Tops.
“If you don’t have a Top out and draw Kokusho off Dark Confidant, that’s six points of life you lose!”
“Yeah, but… I’ll gain five of it back from Kokusho.”
“If he kills it.”
“Yeah, well if he doesn’t he’s dead, right?”
As I watched him play in the finals after long since being eliminated, I had to admit he was right… and doubly so when he played out a second Kokusho to drain his opponent for ten life.
Some people may turn their noses up at some of these decklists given where they come from—perhaps it’s a small state or region where the attendance was relatively low. Still, these decks and the people who played them had to go through some number of Swiss rounds and make the Top 8 cut, and while the decks might not be tight or powerful enough to take down a Grand Prix, Pro Tour, or StarCityGames.com Standard Open, they probably have what it takes to win an FNM or side event tournament and definitely seem like a lot more fun than the current crop of top decks. Don’t let Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Primeval Titan get you down—adjust your expectations, and let the joy shine back in.
What cards do you find interesting in the bottom of the list, or maybe from some of the recent StarCityGames.com Open Top 16 decklists?
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
New to EDH? Be sure to check out my EDH Primer, part 1
, part 2
, and part 3
*Just to clarify—I did have some friends who lived up to my own definition of what friendship would mean, and I’m lucky to still have some of them in my life. It’s just I used to expect
of them to be that way, which was unrealistic.