This week, I feel the need to weigh in on a few more Magic community issues that have cropped up lately, and both issues I feel might find themselves
lost in the weeds, lost in the details, or lost in emotions—thus the title of the column this week.
But in keeping with the title, I’d also like to first give a big shout-out to my Magic partner-in-crime Josh Adams for taking down one of the
slots at the StarCityGames.com Super Invitational Qualifier held this past weekend in nearby Chester, Virginia. Amidst a sea of Jace decks, Josh
piloted the new and improved Hawkward deck debuted by Ken Adams in this past weekend’s Standard Open, earning himself a nice cash prize and a
ticket to the one of the big games this year. For those who might be interested, I’ll post his decklist and a mini-tournament report from him at
the end of this column. Josh was already planning on going to the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis next week but as part of the judging
staff; now he’s got a choice to make.
Speaking of the Invitational in Indy… I’m sad to report that I won’t be going this year. I previously indicated in this column that I
was going to attend and was really looking forward to making what would have been my biggest gaming trip ever. I was especially looking forward to
seeing and meeting people that I rarely, if ever, get to see—maybe even some of you—since my Magic tournament experience is pretty much
confined to the Maryland-Virginia-North Carolina area.
Still, the reason why I’m not going is actually because something good is happening in the big picture—my ex has closed on her house and
will be moving in sometime in the middle of June. That means that I’ll be moving back into my old house by the end of June—which some of
you may remember is a big part of my Take Back My Life 2011 Project.
Once I get settled into my old house, I plan to take on a roommate, which will help cut down on living expenses, which then means I can cut back on the
part-time hours I work and actually open up my time for some living. Life is just too damn short to spend nearly every waking moment working,
especially given my work isn’t something cool or artistic (for instance, if I made my living writing screenplays—my dream job—I could
see the value in sinking a bunch of hours into it). I’m crossing my fingers that I can find a cool roommate who’s also a gamer or, barring
that, a cool roommate who’s also a hot woman… and if she’s a cool gamer who’s also a hot woman, well then I’ll officially
declare my Project an overwhelming success! Hey, a man’s gotta have goals and dreams, right?
Anyway, I’ve got to cough up an extra month’s rent for breaking my lease (not bad considering), and then there’s getting all the
utilities switched over and possibly hiring movers… it all adds up to June being a month where I’m probably going to be pretty tight on my
expenses, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to run off on a four-day road trip right now. I console myself that once I get moved in and
get a roommate, I’ll have more time and the resources to go on these sorts of trips in the future. I just need to be patient for now.
Sigh. Eye on the prize…
Does Something Need to Be Banned in Standard?
A month or so back, the Magic community got into a stir with talks of banning Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but the notion got shouted down by the pundits
who insisted the format was gloriously diverse and called to “wait for New Phyrexia to come out and see how things are.” With the early
spoiling of New Phyrexia allowing the collective hive mind to work on Standard, there were high hopes that the new Standard might be a bold and
exciting new place, but with two new Standard Opens and quite a few smaller qualifier tournaments in the bag, new Standard looks a lot like the old
What I find disturbing and flat-out insane are the whispers that maybe the problem is Stoneforge Mystic, and if it were banned, then Standard would be
Come on, people, keep the eye on the prize—the problem is Jace, the Mind Sculptor! It’s the gas giant planet that sucks into its orbit all
the other great cards in the format and turns them from stray asteroids and comets into badass moons. Sure, they’re pretty moons and diverse
moons, but they’re all Jupiter Jace’s moons. Take a step back for some perspective.
Let’s consider the recent banning of Survival of the Fittest in Legacy this past December. Erik Lauer from R&D wrote up the explanation for
banning here, but let me highlight a few major points here
for why Survival got the ban hammer:
- Survival of the Fittest decks were outperforming other decks in the format.
- Survival of the Fittest is a card that gives the decks a lot of resilience to potential answer cards.
- Some decks fail when they draw the wrong cards, but Survival of the Fittest lets you pitch the wrong card to go get the right card.
It’s pretty easy to see where you could swap out the name “Survival of the Fittest” and replace it with “Jace, the Mind
Sculptor,” and these points would ring true when talking about the current Standard environment. There’s no question that the Jace decks
are vastly outperforming the decks that aren’t running Jace. Jace also gives decks a lot of resilience to potential answer cards, and Jace allows
the deck to trade wrong cards for right cards. Survival wins were dramatic because they technically ended games shortly after just a few activations;
with Jace, the games are practically ended after just a few activations, but it takes a while before the Jace decks actually get around to securing the
technical win (outside of opponents scooping).
Let’s get something straight; there are three good decks: control, aggro, and combo. Control is G/U/x Survival, aggro is G/W/x Survival, and combo
is G/B/x Survival (Necrotic Ooze)… There are only seven “archetypes” with winning records and at least ten appearances. Four of them are
Control Survival, Aggro Survival, and Combo Survival… having Survival of the Fittest saturate three pillar archetypes of the format is what
really set off alarm bells.
Take an honest look at the best decks in Standard right now. Crowding the Tier 1 and near Tier 1 strategies, we’ve got Control Jace decks, Combo
Jace Decks, Midrange Jace decks, and Aggro Jace decks.
Control Jace: U/W Control, Caw-Blade
Combo Jace: Exarch Twin, Pyromancer Ascension
Midrange Jace: RUG (and U/G Genesis Wave)
Aggro Jace: U/G “Bluemanji”
Yes, floating in the sea of Jace decks, you can occasionally find a lucky red deck, or Hawkward, or Elves, or G/W Aggro. But if you compile a simple
table of Top 8 decks from important Standard tournaments with Jace, the Mind Sculptor in one column and those without Jace in the other, the numbers
are overwhelmingly on the side of the Jace decks. Dramatically so.
Think back on the problem with Legacy: Control Survival, Combo Survival, and Aggro Survival. Now in Standard, we’ve got Control Jace, Combo Jace,
Midrange Jace, and Aggro Jace.
Let’s keep focused on the problem.
Patrick also said:
Some players call for the banning of Vengevine instead of Survival. This is most likely a result of their attachment to Survival of the Fittest and
their unwillingness to admit the card is fundamentally broken. It was already absurd with Squee, Loyal Retainers, Anger, Krovikan Horror, Wonder,
Basking Rootwalla, and more, but even if Vengevine were banned, it would just be something else that pushes it over the edge. Besides, between
Loyal Retainers and Necrotic Ooze, it’s painfully clear that Vengevine isn’t a necessary component for Survival degeneracy.
To me, there are parallels here with people calling for the banning of Stoneforge Mystic instead of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Like Patrick suggested
regarding the Survival problem, I think this is most likely a result of their attachment to Jace, the Mind Sculptor and their unwillingness to admit
the card is fundamentally broken. Jace was already absurd with fetchlands, Squadron Hawks, Fauna Shaman, and against non-hasty creatures that cost more
than four mana without comes-into-play abilities (consider the Titans if they didn’t have the comes-into-play abilities). It’s just gotten
even more absurd when we can play Stoneforge Mystic now to fetch up Batterskull while drawing three cards and shuffling away two cards we don’t
need. If you ban Stoneforge Mystic, Jace is still going to be a dominating card.
One last thought: A lot of people argue that any format has got to have a “best card,” and the best card is going to obviously be played a
lot and just because a card is the “best” doesn’t mean it needs to be banned. I agree… to a point. But I also think it’s
unhealthy for one particular card to be so head-and-shoulders better than the other cards, so dominating for so long. I think in a healthy
environment, there should be a constant scrum between the “best” cards, where it’s easy to argue that a handful of different cards
are the “best” at different times.
I have no idea if Wizards is going to ban something in Standard. It seems clear to me that Standard is stale and unappealing for a lot of players right
now despite the goodies from New Phyrexia—especially those who don’t have the resources or desire to just shuffle up the best decks and
win. Given the appearance of Stoneforge Mystic in one of the New Phyrexia Event Decks, I can’t imagine it’s going to get banned.
Maybe they’ll be tempted to wait and see if M12 can shake things up or just run out the clock with big Jace rotating this fall. I just think
Standard would be a pretty exciting format right now if Jace, the Mind Sculptor (and likely Valakut to give non-Jace midrange decks a chance) got the
banhammer for these last four months.
Eyes on the prize—do we want Standard to be fun and enticing as a format this summer?
“The Bridge Format”—Extended Versus Overextended Versus Modern
Speaking of formats, apparently new Extended is very much the opposite of that. I don’t know because I didn’t play in the Extended PTQs,
and so I didn’t really pay much attention to it. The consensus seems to be that the new Extended is pretty awful and is just a
“Standard’s Greatest Hits” from the past two years—which doesn’t sound too bad in the abstract until you realize it means
all the onerous decks like Faeries and Jund are making players miserable all over again. Since new Extended isn’t very satisfying, talk is
naturally turning towards alternatives. Recently some friends and I were discussing the merits of two alternatives—Modern and Overextended.
Some folks are arguing that maybe Wizards should ditch Extended altogether and focus on Block tournaments instead. However, I think it’s pretty
clear that Wizards wants to have a fun and viable “bridge” format for players to grow into from Standard without having to jump immediately
into the deep and expensive waters of Legacy. They realize players want the security of knowing that the money they invest in Standard will hold at
least some value in other formats.
The chasm between “good in Standard” and “good in Legacy” is mighty steep, and for every Knight of the Reliquary and Noble
Hierarch that can make that leap, there are a gigantic number of Cryptic Commands, Maelstrom Pulses, and Reveillarks that plunge into the black hole of
obsolescence, hoping to snag a casual player’s mercy branch on the way down.
In these tough economic times, players are naturally concerned with getting value from their card purchases, especially with smart folks like
StarCityGames.com’s own Jonathon Medina shining the light on the rise and fall of prices for Magic singles.
Having a fun and engaging format where old Standard cards have a good chance of remaining good will help maintain their value and make buying new Magic
cards more enticing to players. Since Wizards is in the business of selling new Magic cards, it makes perfect sense to want a bridge format.
Of course, the tricky part—the prize, so to speak—is making a fun and engaging bridge format. If you make it too shallow, then it will feel
too much like Standard. If you make it too deep, the card values won’t hold up in their post-Standard rotation, and it’ll start feeling
more and more like Legacy.
Where is that sweet spot?
Magic’s been around eighteen years now. Standard covers around two years of history, or about 11% of Magic sets. New Extended covered twice that,
around 22%, and that obviously wasn’t deep enough.
Gavin Verhey has done a ton of work exploring a format
that’s being called Overextended. This would cover roughly eleven of the eighteen years of Magic if it started with Invasion, as he
suggests. While I have no doubt the format is likely as fun as his research has shown, I can’t help but think a format covering over 60% of Magic
sets would end up being too deep to help maintain card values when rotating from Standard to Overextended.
Another format being floated right now is called Modern, which is being featured in the 2011 Magic Online Community Cup. Patrick Chapin on our
Premium side is also pretty stoked about the format, throwing out a ton of deck ideas. Modern will start
with 8th Edition and Mirrodin going forward, covering roughly eight of Magic’s eighteen years, or about 44% of Magic’s
history. Four times as deep as Standard, twice as deep as new Extended… is that the sweet spot?
Of course, there’s a big problem I see with both of these. Drawing a line in the sand at a particular Magic set going forward might make it work
as a bridge format now, but it’s going to get deeper and deeper over time, making it less and less likely new Magic cards will be able to compete.
No, I think a good bridge format is going to have to tether itself to the Standard line and be some magnitude deeper than Standard. Modern can show us
whether four times as deep as Standard works well. Maybe it would be better as three times as deep. However, I am very curious to see how Modern shapes
up, and personally I’m rooting for it to step up and replace Extended, at least briefly, before it starts moving forward in time behind Standard.
That’s not to say I wish ill of Gavin’s Overextended format. Personally, I hope it turns out to be wildly fun and gains a lot of fans. Not
for being the new bridge format, but for the eventual replacement over or companion to Legacy as one of the formats for the StarCityGames.com Opens.
With Wizards’ reprint policy inviolate, the format is going to run into a card availability ceiling that is fast approaching. I see it all around
me as entire local Magic communities have to pool their resources just to field a couple of good Legacy decks. As an example, for a recent Legacy
tournament, there were a grand total of four copies of Candelabra of Tawnos in the entire Richmond player base (including my copy), so one player was
able to play a Time Spiral deck. There is a fatal flaw in a format where groups of friends have to choose between everyone playing subpar decks or
having just a few of them being able to field good decks while the rest stay home or play in side events.
What I’m hoping to see eventually is something like this—on the StarCityGames.com Open Weekends, we’ll have Standard Saturdays and
Eternal Sundays featuring a split between Legacy and Overextended.
A Little Bit o’ Standard
As I promised above, here’s a little bit of excitement in the Standard format with my friend Josh kicking ass with Hawkward. All the Top 8
decklists can be found
here, but here’s his list for reference:
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Glint Hawk
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Signal Pest
- 3 Porcelain Legionnaire
- 3 Vault Skirge
I asked Josh for a recap of his tournament experience to share here with those of you who are interested.
Round 1 vs. Caw-Go
This was one of the longer games of the day, going until turn 6. My opponent was at three life, and I had two Glint Hawk Idols and Phyrexian Revoker
naming Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I had two Memnites and another Revoker in my hand. He proceeded to brainstorm with Jace; I called a judge, and he
issued a game loss for drawing extra cards. I attempted to tell my opponent he should appeal, but he shuffled up, and we moved to game two.
The head judge came over and informed my opponent that it was just a Game Rule Violation and a warning, but since we already shuffled up, it was an
unrecoverable game state, and he lost anyway. Game two, my hand was Mox, Mox, Glint Hawk, Vault Skirge, Signal Pest, Glint Hawk, Plains. I was on the
draw and drew a Steel Overseer. I opened on a Mox, which he Spell Pierced, then proceeded to vomit the rest of my hand onto the table. On turn 4, he
was at two life and could only drop two chump-blocking birds so he conceded.
Round 2 vs. Caw-Go
Game one was a little slow, but I won on the back of Shrine of Loyal Legions for eight with two Contested War Zones. Game two my hand was Mox, Glint
Hawk, Glint Hawk, Signal Pest, Signal Pest, Inkmoth Nexus, Vault Skirge. So I vomited my entire hand onto the table turn 1 and said go. He had two
Condemns, but I just drew more gas; he dug for a Day of Judgment, but I had stuck a Shrine so it wouldn’t have saved him anyway.
Round 3 vs. Darkblade
So anyone who has known me for a while knows I always go 2-0 and then lose in the third round… this day was no exception. First game, I had a god
hand, emptied my entire hand turn 1, and beat down. Second game, I mulled to five and never saw a second land; he had double Stoneforge Mystic and just
beat the crap out of me. Game three was much of the same with me having a not quite-playable seven, and I mulled into a six that was bleh.
Round 4 vs. U/W Control
Game one was a really quick game, as my deck did what it was supposed to do. Game two degenerated with him able to deal with almost all my threats
except two Inkmoth Nexuses. I had two Tempered Steels in play and just rode them to victory.
Round 5 vs. Caw-Go
Game one, I dropped my entire seven on the table… Game two, I dropped my entire seven on the table…
Round 6 vs. Caw-Go
So I played against one of the guys that come up to the shop occasionally… Game one went my way with me keeping a really aggressive six-card hand.
Game two he had sideboard against me but didn’t see much of it, and I just ran him over with a Shrine of Loyal Legions with Steel Overseer and a
Contested War Zone on the table.
Round 7 vs. U/W Control
He was late for the match and got a game loss, which meant we started off game two with no sideboarding. I offered him the draw, and he refused because
he had two draws already. I got lethal on the table, and he asked if we could draw; it didn’t matter to me either way, and I drew with him to be nice.
Round 8 vs. Darkblade (Quarterfinals)
As an aside, this was one of the most fun games of Magic I have EVER played in my life. First game, I kept a slightly slower hand, but it had a
Tempered Steel in it—finally! He Inquisitioned me and took it. I topdecked the second one and rode it to victory. Second game was one of the
craziest topdecking wars ever. He drew over half his deck and all but four of his lands; I drew all but two of my lands. Every time he dropped a
threat, I dropped a Dispatch on its head. My deck sucks at attrition wars, and I eventually lost to Creeping Tar Pits. Game three I killed him on turn
4. My hand was the nuts with a Steel Overseer sealing his fate on turn 2.
Round 9 vs. RUG Exarch Combo (Semifinals)
I opened on Plains, Memnite, Signal Pest, Mox, Glint Hawk, Glint Hawk with a Tempered Steel in my hand. He Spell Pierced the Tempered Steel at one
point and put me to two life, but my crack back was exactly lethal. I played like a Champion in that game and forced him to Lightning Bolt one of my
guys the turn before he dropped a Jace that was revealed with Oracle, so I could drop my Revoker on Jace with no hassle. Second game, he dropped a turn
4 Inferno Titan on my head… that hurt. Last game I had the nuts draw and came out fast. He played Halimar Depths on turn 4 with like nine lands
out already, and to be funny he revealed a Pyroclasm. So on my turn, I said “YEAH SO WHAT THIS TEMPERED STEEL IS GONNA KICK YOUR A$$” and blind flipped
my top card (the only other card in my hand was a Plains), and it was the Tempered Steel! I swung, putting him to three.
So my opponent had a Deceiver Exarch on table already, Brainstormed with Jace the next turn. Preordained once… Preordained twice… Preordained a
THIRD FRIGGEN TIME… at this point, my head was on the table, and he played two Explores… said go… I cracked my Shrine for four guys on his turn
and then untapped on my turn; he killed all but one of them, but he had cracked two fetches the turn previous so the one guy killed him.
Round 10 vs. Caw-Go (Finals)
The judges looked exhausted. I was tired of playing vs. Caw-Go, and I had an invite anyway, so I was the bigger man and said to just end it and
conceded. I had no doubt in my mind that I would have won another Caw-Go match had I played.
I played the exact list from Ken Adams with just a few cards in the sideboard different. If I had to change the maindeck, I’d take out the Porcelain
Legionnaires; he’s just really slow in the deck. Jace is still a huge problem in the format; the deck just really exploits the fact that Caw-Blade
decks aren’t playing Day of Judgments in the main anymore, and if they are, only 1-2 of them, which will typically buy you that critical extra turn to
finish them off. The deck might have been more explosive if I ever, EVER drew a Tempered Steel, but the one that showed up in the semis was worth it.
Thanks for the report, Josh! Yes folks—that’s a Jace deck opponent… every… single… round… for ten rounds. Ugh.
I hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend; stay safe and have fun. Me, I’m working my part-time job all weekend, but Sunday night, when I
get off from work, I’m getting in my car and driving down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to spend a couple days with my folks, getting
spoiled by Mom and eating lots of fresh seafood. Good times!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
My current Commander decks
(and links to decklists):
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Glissa, the Traitor undying artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood Campfire Spores)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter proliferaTION)
Fist of Suns and Bringers
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker my “more competitive” deck)