You Lika The Juice? – Back Home

I now have the time to come back home and write for StarCityGames.com on a consistent basis. Writing the Dailies the other week was a lot of fun, and I look forward to the freedom and flexibility afforded to writers here. It feels good to be back – I started writing for Pete back in 1999! When I saw that Steven Menendian was recently celebrating his 100th column for Star City, it made me wonder – how many columns have I written here?

You lika the juice, eh? The juice, she’s a-good. I get you more juice.
We Kid Because We Love, by Jon Becker

Apparently, my picture reminds Becker of Rob Schneider’s skit on Saturday Night Live, where he plays a dude named Hub who manages a Greek restaurant:

Customer: Uh… I was wondering… Can I get, uh, a little more juice for the sandwich?
Hub: You like-a da juice, yeah?
Customer: Yeah… I do.
Hub: The juice is good, ah?
Customer: Yeah! It’s, uh… it’s, uh… [laughs]
Hub: I get you more juice!
Customer: Okay… great… thanks…
Hub: Helios! More juice for the gyro!
Helios: What? For who?
Hub: Right here.
Helios: You like-a da juice, huh?
Customer: Yeah. Yeah, I do.
Helios: The juice is very good, huh?
Customer: Yeah! No, it is… it is… it’s… good stuff.
Helios: More juice!
Back Employees: What?
Hub: More juice for the gyro!
Back Employees: You like-a da juice, huh? Juice is good! So good, de juice!
Hub: They’re getting you the juice, my friend.

The entire original skit can be found here and it’s quite amusing if you channel how Rob Schneider and Jason Alexander (as the customer) must have actually sounded like (if you never actually saw it). Pete Hoefling (StarCityGames.com Grand Master) finds the whole “Bennie” and the lika the juice connection absolutely hilarious, so I figured – why not embrace the notion, make it mine and name my column after it? So good, de juice!

Anyway, in case you haven’t been over to MagictheGathering.com read Into The Aether recently, you may not know my days writing that column for Wizards are numbered. The Powers That Be have decided to “take the column in a new direction,” and the new travel plans don’t include me as the driver. I’ve got one or two more weeks on board before they reveal the new author and the new direction, so I’ll hold off commenting on the change until then. Writing the Magic Online column was incredibly challenging but I was happy to have the opportunity and certainly had a good time with it. One thing I am dreading is what I’ll dub mortalitis, when the privileges of using a Wizards “god account” for Magic Online gets stripped away, leaving behind the depressing task of firing up my personal account (blairwitchgreen) and seeing just how sparse my real collection actually is. As someone who loves building a wide array of different decks, this is going to hurt.

Oh yes – there will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

The upshot of the change is that I will now have the time to come back home and write for StarCityGames.com on a consistent basis. Writing the Dailies the other week was a lot of fun, and I look forward to the freedom and flexibility afforded to writers here. It feels good to be back – I started writing for Pete back in 1999! When I saw that Steven Menendian was recently celebrating his 100th column for Star City, it made me wonder – how many columns have I written here?

Turns out that today’s column marks column #124 for StarCityGames, not counting the articles I wrote in 1999 that have been lost in the sands of time (and computer upgrades). Sadly, I hit #100 almost 3 years ago (A Magical Smorgasbord). Why sadly? Well that means I’ve not done too much writing here at StarCityGames since then, but that’s a trend I intend to reverse in spades!

Parsing Polls
One thing I’m going to do from time to time here is to open up discussion on some of the polls that crop up on Wizards site – most often on Aaron Forsythe Latest Developments column – and divine what they may portend for the future of Magic. Some of them are quite obvious, like asking what people think about a recent decision, and in those cases there’s really no point in talking about it. But sometimes they beg deeper digging. For instance, here’s a recent one:

How many Ravnica-block dual lands do you own?
1-4 5079 27.1%
0 3322 17.7%
5-8 2813 15.0%
20-39 2173 11.6%
9-12 1885 10.1%
13-19 1808 9.6%
40+ 1662 8.9%
Total 18742 100.0%

Aaron added this comment: “I wasn’t sure what to expect with these results, although I’ll admit to being curious as to whether people that opened only a small number of the lands in packs tended to keep them or trade them away.”

In mid-June, Ben “Nettling Imp” Bleiweiss wrote a Daily called (Dis)Organized Play Part 2: Where is My Block Constructed Season? In it, Ben said: “…the cost of Standard right now is prohibitive to many players, with the main barrier being the cost of manabases. Many players would be able to justify picking up multiples of the Ravnica / Guildpact / Dissension shock lands if they had more tournament utility — that is, a tournament past Regionals in which they would be played. In the past, the impetus for this would be the Block Constructed Season.” In the forums, there was a lot of lamenting about the high cost of Ravnica duals and the shelf life you’d get for your investment. I chimed in with this:

“One bit of speculation on the RAV dual lands and the cost/benefit equation when talking about investing in them… Notice that the RAV rare duals all use generic names rather than Ravnica-specific names. I think it’s highly likely that they will replace the Ice Age/Apocalypse pain lands in the base set for 10th edition next summer. Over the years, Wizards has shown a preference to not have too many “block-ethnic” named cards in the base set, and the current pain lands are all very much tied to places from blocks past. With any luck, the You Decide! 10th Edition promotion Wizards is firing up may confirm it one way or the other.

“Again, this is just speculation, but it seems highly likely that RAV duals, while terribly expensive and tough to collect, will have a very long shelf life.”

The Wizards poll not long after this thread leads me to think my speculation may be on target. Aaron may be attempting a little bit of misdirection by claiming to be curious about player’s trading habits in regard to dual lands, but I think Wizards might be trying to gage how well Ravnica duals have saturated the player base, recognizing that pulling out the long available Ice Age/Apocalypse “pain lands” and replacing them with Ravnica duals in the base set could be quite costly for tournament players who have not been working on stocking up on them.

News Flash — Facial Tissue Shortage Looming?

STARCITYGAMES (AP) Paper prices spiked today while Kleenex reported record profits this quarter, leading to consumer outcry about alleged price gouging. Experts summoned to Capital Hill for Congressional hearings blame Magic Pro Player whining and crying over Coldsnap driving demand for facial tissue. “There aren’t enough tissue plants to keep up with this increase in demand,” said one executive off the record. “We account for a certain level of Pro whining and crying, but no one could have predicted it being this bad. Our profits are simply a product of the laws of supply and demand.”

C’mon, pro players – buck up! You’re killing us here…

I typically enjoy Jeroen Remie columns here on Star City, but his recent one (The Remie Rundown: On Coldsnap – Pulling No Punches) really got under my skin. Let’s take a look at some of his specific complaints:

1 – Coldsnap has interesting cards based on a theme, but the theme is too small to actually develop.

Remie specifically zeros in on the snow-theme, lamenting that there are only enough interesting cards for half a snow deck. I fail to see how this is a problem. When Wizards pushed themes hard, like in Onslaught and Mirrodin, we complained that they were building our decks for us. In Kamigawa and Ravnica, they learned their lesson, giving us enough cards to harness the power and synergies of themes while leaving enough holes and gaps for variation and exploration. Ravnica guild mechanics were potent, but few could flesh out an entire deck around the themes. Coldsnap seems to follow in this vein, giving us the tools to exploit Snow if we can find the right decks to hang it in.

2 – The set feels like a waste at this point in time.
3 – Despite this set not containing much for Constructed, you still can’t ignore it.
4 – Outside of the aforementioned themes, there is not all that much there.

Remie’s next couple of complaints all basically point to the same thing, a deep dissatisfaction with the vast majority of Coldsnap cards (“useless”), and the feeling that this set was just thrown out there to make Wizards money. We’ll set aside the money-making complaint for now, since I think most people recognize that Wizards of the Coast is a business and is duty-bound to turn a profit for Papa Hasbro and keep themselves employed.

First of all, isn’t every set chock full of “useless” cards for Constructed play? Obviously, most of the cards are made for casual play and Limited, just like in any set. While there are high-points in the number of “playable cards” for Magic sets (and Ravnica block is definitely in the high-water mark), I think if you had the time and energy to plot the number of cards in each set that see significant play in Constructed Magic, Coldsnap will not fall outside of the average range.

Remie goes on to list his Top cards from Coldsnap:

Ohran Viper
Karplusan Strider
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
Stalking Yeti
Blizzard Specter
Wall of Shards
Ronom Unicorn
Stromgald Crusader
White Shield Crusader
Garza Zol, Plague Queen
Adarkar Valkyrie
Rimescale Dragon

He purposely left off Snow cards because he feels the theme isn’t developed enough to play the cards, but others may disagree. Let’s assume that Snow cards can be used competitively and we can add these to the list:

Scrying Sheets
Coldsteel Heart
Into The North
Boreal Druid
Snow-Covered duals
Snow-Covered basics

That’s 31 cards out of 155, and 20% is not a bad ratio by itself… but I think there’s even more cards that are good enough to find a home: Karplusan Wolverine, several of the Martyrs, Rune Snag, Grim Harvest, Perilous Research, Vexing Sphinx, Jotun Owl Keeper, Lightning Cloud, Icefall, Brooding Saurian, Zur the Enchanter, Magmatic Core, Vanish into Memory, Commandeer, Sunscour, Soul Spike, and Panglacial Wurm. All of these have potential and I imagine a few of them will break through, pushing the ratio of “good cards” even higher.

Now, Limited is something I’m not particularly insightful on, but I have a couple points to make here. First and foremost… Coldsnap Limited will surely be a short-lived format, and will only be around for a few months this summer until Time Spiral comes along to kick off a new block. Even if Coldsnap limited is the nut-low… so what? Hold your nose for a month or two and just deal with it.

From what I’ve seen though, Coldsnap Limited seems an interesting nut to crack. Ripple and some of the other cards are ridiculous in large numbers, but considerably less good when you only have one or two copies. This adds a layer of metagame to the draft itself—are you able to accumulate copies of one of these cards before someone else catches on? Do you hate draft one or two to prevent someone else from doing it? Remie laments that Ripple is too random, that even if you have a bunch of copies of a Ripple card in your deck, you can miss and just not “go off.” Randomness is why we play Magic over, say, Chess, and I think the randomness of Ripple is actually a good thing: even if you completely miss the fact that one guy ended up with seven Surging Aether in your draft, it’s possible he could miss and not wreck you with it. Conversely, if random n00b wrecks a Good Player™ by chaining all three copies of a Ripple card (how lucky!), perhaps n00b gets a taste of the thrill of victory, buys more Magic cards and works to improve his game, stepping full-force into our Magic community.

Remie also points out that there is very little card advantage in the set, which I’m sure is frustrating if you don’t end up with any in your stack, but doesn’t that just make drafting and playing your deck all the more skill testing? Making sure you take advantage of synergies, holding tricks for optimal times, squeezing an extra point of damage out of your opponent’s hide whenever possible… raw card advantage cards can sometimes cover for mistakes, so it seems that having fewer of them available would ultimately reward more skilled players. Is that bad?

Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, and slamming new sets when they come out is a time-honored tradition by Magic columnists throughout the years. Coldsnap has a lot of strikes against it, number one of which is coming on the heels of one of the most exciting Magic expansion blocks in the history of the game. Though it’s officially part of the Ice Age block, for all intents and purposes it’s an “orphan” set, with limited space to explore various themes. Being released during the hottest summer on record (in the U.S. at any rate) when a lot of people are particularly grumpy doesn’t help either, but I think Coldsnap manages to do some things well and will reward players who give it a chance.

Hit Me!
One of the things I’ve gotten used to writing a regular column for Wizards is reader feedback, so I just wanted to encourage all of you to let me know what you think and what you’d like to see in my column, either in the forums or email me at bennie dot c dot smith at gmail dot com.

It’s good to be back!