You Lika The Juice? – It’s Mailbag Day!

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
It occurs to me that I don’t share the emails I get from people as much as I should, so as a tip of the hat to those of you who care enough to send your thoughts back, I wanted to include a few of them here this week, and try harder to at least share one email a week from here on.

You know, in a world where there are quite a few Magic writers, and relatively few spaces to write in, it’s an honor and privilege to have a regular column here at the best Magic site of all, StarCityGames.com. As a writer, it can be easy to take things for granted, to plod along your merry way, secure in your awesomeness as you pour a few thousand words onto the page for the community to read when they should be working or paying attention in class. Still, it doesn’t hurt to realize from time to time that you’re here to write for the Magic Community, to add to the discourse, to be a net positive as The Ferrett pointed out recently. You’re here for your fans, and I just wanted to give a shout out all of you, and to three fans in particular, without whom I wouldn’t be here – Pete, Craig, and The Ferrett. Thanks all of you for your support and for giving me this portal to the Community. You rock!

Last week’s column, The Amateur Spark, got me all introspective because as of Sunday afternoon I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about. At that point, I’d saved four different topic ideas (including the quote from Nick Eisel), my draft decklist, the definition of Amateur and the quote from the book I was reading, and Devin Low’s Frogger quote. As I started fleshing out the words, it all seemed to really gel much more than I thought it would, getting a life of its own so that by Sunday evening it was more or less done (Monday I did a little editing and tightening up before sending it in to be edited). Going in, I thought the main thrust of the article was going to be discussing my draft deck. In the end, I bumped the draft deck altogether to not distract from the points I was making.

The response to the column was humbling. The forum thread was hopping, with over a 1,000 views and 36 posts. I got a bunch of emails and messages. When you reach out to the Magic Community and it reaches back to you, it’s an awesome experience.

It occurs to me that I don’t share the emails I get from people as much as I should, so as a tip of the hat to those of you who care enough to send your thoughts back, I wanted to include a few of them here this week, and try harder to at least share one email a week from here on.

By the way, I’ve had the fargin Frogger theme song stuck in my head all day. Thanks… Jay D.

Hee hee, I got this from my buddy Jay regarding Devin Low’s amusing quote that led off the column. It was fun to be cause of an annoying ear worm…

Mr. Smith:

I generally do not respond to columns that I read online (or in print), either by email or through forums. I felt compelled to respond to yours, however. I really enjoyed it, and it made me feel connected to a community that heretofore I had felt distanced. I started playing Magic about the time of Ice Age, and then stopped until a month before Lorwyn came out. (By that time, I had been married to my wife long enough that she couldn’t leave me when she found the D&D under the mattress stuffed away like old porno). Let me tell you: it was a thrill to start opening boosters again (but a shock when I realized that the average price had gone up from $3 to $4). I had even intended on participating in the Lorwyn prerelease. Then I missed it. Then I intended on participating in the Lorwyn release. And I missed that. Why? I’m sure you can guess it: I was intimidated, big time (and I teach and engage in research at the university level… you’d think something like a local Magic release event wouldn’t bother me at all). I felt no connection, as I read everything I could online and visited EVERY gaming store within 50 miles of me that actually hosted DCI events. I watched all the Magic tournament games on google video, and was blown away. But it all left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. I love competition, and I love rules, and I love creativity: that’s what’s so fun about Magic. But I couldn’t believe the need to get four of every rare in a deck just so you can win. Okay, I understand that need, I really do. But what I don’t understand is the myopia of it all, the loss of what you so correctly called “the amateur spark”.

Anyway, in the last few months I have taught my wife and two friends to play, a new gaming store has opened with big tables, and I’ve found a few fellas who like to shuffle it up every Friday night while the wives go out and watch movies (except my wife, who owns everyone with her Merfolk deck – marriage brings many surprises…). I still intend on playing in release and prerelease events, and may even hit FNM sometime. But your article was a fresh of breath air that really made me feel connected to Magic beyond my own collection and inner circle. Thanks for taking the time to write that up.

Oh, and now that I’m an adult with a pay check and can actually buy cards more than a booster a month, my collection of Lorwyn and Tenth is pretty big… so the other day, I bought a fat pack of Future Sight, just for the hell of it, and that same excitement that you talk about in your article overwhelmed me. It was awesome. Thanks for bringing that out in your article. — Jon C.

Jon’s letter really moved me. Here was a guy, for whom cut-throat competition has little appeal, and he didn’t walk away from the game, he kept his head and heart in there until circumstances came together and he found people to play with. Or converted his wife and friends, which works too.

Jon also reinforced the point I was making last week – that soooo much of what Wizards does with Magic revolves around the Pro Tour and high level competition, to the point that Jon seemed to feel disconnected from the Magic Community — even though the vast majority of Magic players are people just like him! Like I said last week, I think things are changing for the better under the guidance of Aaron Forsythe, and I think this here website does a good job at producing casual content alongside the competitive stuff.

Bennie — I read your article today on Amateur Spark. It was great. I am one of the people you described, having attended prerelease/release events for every set from Alliances onward except two, and it took a death in the family and back surgery to keep me away from those. I have also attended exactly zero PT/PTQ/GP type events. This is because I have fun playing Magic, but I don’t have fun working at winning at Magic. Among all the articles by the pros that are usually slanted to the pros and pro-wannabees, it is nice to see a well-written article supporting those of us who play primarily for the fun. Thanks, Mike H.

Here’s another letter supporting the Forsythe’s direction, and shifting away slightly from the overly Pro-centric focus. Speaking of which, if you have not dropped him an email supporting what he did opening up the Magic Invitational to the Storyteller ballot — which resulted in our own Evan Erwin getting to go to this year’s event — please do so. Here’s the article where he talks about pushing for this “contentious” decision; at the bottom is a link where you can send him an email. Drop him an email telling him you appreciate his efforts to expand what the Magic Community means outside of the Pro Tour-centric view that’s dominated things for a while now.

Dear Mr. Smith,

My name is Robert H. and I have been a loyal reader of all the StarCityGames articles for a very long time now. The Amateur Spark article that I just finished reading was hands down the best article I have read on the site to date. I’m your average Magic player with a constructed 1834, limited 1852 rating, 2 wonderful kids, full time job, and a loving wife who supports my crazy addiction to this game we all love. I’m currently tied for 1st in the Austin City Champs but I’m from a small town just an hour away from Houston (live in Orange, TX) and find it hard to believe there can’t be just 2 stores running tournaments in the state of Texas.

My friends and I are the utter definition of amateurs to the core, I have played this game since early 1994 when my dad bought me my first booster and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have met a lot of pros since I’ve began playing and it seems that in this overly competitive world we live in some have forgot what “For the love of the game” means. In their conquest for glory, money, and the fame some just forget where they came from and that at one time they too were amateurs. So I say congrats to you on an awesome article and salute all those who would stand up for the little guy, those who play simply “For the love of the game”.

What I loved about this letter from Robert is that he proclaims himself an average Magic player; he’s a husband and dad and holds down a full time job… and yet he’s also tied for first in his area City Champs, and his rankings are such to earn a bye or two at a Grand Prix! I’d say he was much closer to being ultra-competitive than being ultra-casual… and yet it’s obvious that he still has a love and joy for the game that comes through even when he’s being competitive. Some of the people who read last week’s article felt I was being hard on Pros in general, holding up casual players as perhaps morally superior or pure. That really wasn’t my intention. One of my goals was to reach out to people like Robert, who’ve found success competitively, and urge them not to lose that Amateur Spark that makes playing the game fun in and of itself. There are plenty of pros who still hold that Spark out there, and reading about them in Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage is a joy.

I thought your article was fantastic. “The Amateur Spark”… I understand the exact meaning of this. There are many players in my local scene that do not have the spark anymore, nor do they care to have it again. I consider my self both a competitive and casual player. I try to have fun, but the people that lack the spark ruin it for those like myself. I’m glad to see that there are still people that believe in the FUN of Magic, but still have enough smarts to kick the elitists verbally in the teeth. — Nick R.

Nick’s letter represents the consequences of losing that Amateur Spark; not only are you yourself not having the fun playing Magic that you should be having, but you’re often going to negatively impact the people around you. This was one of the reasons Nick Eisel quote really got under my skin so badly. Let’s take a scenario – say we’ve got someone like Nick R. above, who loves the game of Magic. Perhaps he goes to all the prereleases and occasional FNMs, and would like to step up his game, go to some PTQs… heck, maybe get on the Road to Nationals through City Champs? He’s got a couple of guys on the local scene he knows have been to the Pro Tour once or twice… but they’re complete *ssholes. Unapproachable. They throw temper tantrums when they lose. Not exactly open to helping someone improve their game (I know most pros and semi-pros aren’t like this, but there are some). How is the guy gonna improve?

I know you.
Or at least your writings.
I’ve read your articles for about 4 or 5 years (slightly shorter than
I have been playing MTG).
I always had a preference to writers like you and Abe.
Mainly casual writers that try to give an edge to casual players.
I’ve played 15 person multiplayer games.
I’ve helped friends test for Standard through months of playtesting.
I write for [a Magic portal site] and today I added your article about The Amateur Spark.
That is one of the best articles I have ever read.
Thank You Bennie Smith,
The MTG community thanks you too,
Daniel R.

Daniel’s email was cool, written almost like a poem or song lyric. He also alerted me to a Magic portal site I was not even aware of, so it’s going to be fun poking around there. It’s fantastic to hear from people who’ve read your stuff for so long… thanks Daniel!

Finally, I got an email from a soldier living in the Netherlands asking for some deck advice which I will email him about directly. However, he did say this at the end:

If you or anyone you know knows of a good Magic shop in the Maastricht area, please let me know.

Since I know of few stores outside of the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. I figure I’d toss this out there in the hopes that I perhaps have a Dutch reader who can help a brother out.

I’d like to get back in the play of things and have done my best to try to catch up but I don’t know that it’ll quite be enough… heh… In truth, probably my greatest difficulty to overcome is living in southern Arkansas and being a fair way from any hubs that would offer anything along the lines of competition. I’m hoping you might be able to help out in some form or fashion, guide me in the right direction and let me know where I might be able to catch up, you might say… anyone I could talk to, or any articles that would perhaps help myself and Dean get back in the now and out of the past. Hope you can figure out a way to aid a fellow geezer. All the best, ~Grant

Any readers in Arkansas can help point Grant in the right direction to a store? As far as articles to help you get up to speed, you’re at the right place — StarCityGames.com got some fantastic strategy articles both on the free and Premium side. I know some people balk at having to pay for Magic strategy content, but the cost is actually very reasonable for what you get. For Constructed, it’s hard to beat Chapin, Flores, and Feldman, and we’ve got some great Limited experts as well. For just $4.95, give it a try for a month and see what you think.

As far as building some competitive decks, here’s what I’d recommend assuming that you don’t have many current Standard cards. Start with Lorwyn – buy a booster box or two with your friend Dean, get some drafts in, do some sealed deck. Do the same when Morningtide comes out, and the next set… build some Standard decks out of them and play up at Friday Night Magic. Sure, you won’t have Time Spiral stuff, and you’ll be at a bit of a disadvantage, but use the time to explore what works for the upcoming Lorwyn Block Constructed tournaments and you’ll be ready for that. Pick up some 10th edition cards along the way in trade; maybe buy some singles here and there. Next fall, do the same with the new expansion set… and combined with Lorwyn you should now have the tools you need to compete in Standard tournaments.

Now here’s the key to long-term success in keeping a solid Magic collection – avoid liquidating your cards for cash if you can. Once a block rotates out of Standard, take a look at those cards – set aside those that you may want to play in Extended, or for your casual, multiplayer deck; the rest, stick in your trade binder, and when you go to tournaments, trade them away for new cards you need. I’ve basically done that since I started playing during Unlimited, and I’ve been able to field competitive Standard decks for going on 15 years now.

On City Champs 2009
Last week I also raised some hell about City Champs, which I still feel is just really going in the wrong direction. However, in the forum thread Fenaris put up a fantastic post pointing out the positive changes made to the City Champs program, and if you didn’t catch his post I wanted to make sure to highlight what he said here:

Two guaranteed invites from each store. Last year, a store wasn’t even guaranteed to get anyone sent to the Final! Think about that, your store runs the full 16 required events. You send nobody to the final! Why? Every other place ran one round more than you did, or cut to a Top 8 for more points, or your guys didn’t take it ‘serious’. Losing to the numbers game is no fun.

Standings are contained to individual stores. Guess who had an advantage during ’07 Champs? The ones who had more participating stores in their town. The main city had 2 stores competing; ours had one, with the closest other store being 1-2 hours away. We had the benefit of people not taking Champs seriously at first.

An “In Store” Finals. WotC doesn’t have to hand semi-fancy plaques out to make things matter locally. If your local store doesn’t feel like making anything out of the store final, that’s not WotC’s problem. Get your store involved and get them to make the final more than just, “Two invites to the champs finals.”

A LARGER final. Last year’s final was Top 8 players across the region. Four rounds Swiss… let that sink in. Yeah, we all ID’ed the fourth round. A final with potential players equal to twice the stores involved sounds like a damn fine tournament to play in. I’m all for it.

I’m glad to hear there are some positive changes made to the program as it stands.

So How Did Your Draft Go?
I ended up cutting my very first Lorwyn draft deck from last week’s column, but I did want to share what I drafted with those of you who’ve done a lot more of it in the hopes of eliciting some advice. Pack 1 I opened a foil Liliana Vess. Now, I had yet to actually acquire a single Liliana Vess for my collection, so I was excited about getting this one for that reason, but I also figure the Planeswalker is pretty strong in Limited as being a card advantage machine, and if you fire off the big ability that’s got to be game over.

Once I was in Black, I tried to stay in it for a while, eventually picking up some Blue to round it out, with a red card or two to keep my options open. I cracked open a Thundercloud Shaman in my 3rd pack, and was passed one immediately afterward, so I was hoping to perhaps change into red but there wasn’t much coming after that.

Between the foil Vess, Doran, the Siege Tower, Knucklebone Witch and Thorn of Amethyst, I got collection value from the draft. Here’s what I drafted, with an asterix (*) indicating what I played with.

2 Peppersmoke*
1 Facevaulter*
2 Skeletal Changeling*
1 Boggart Harbinger*
2 Eyeblight’s Ending*
1 Boggart Loggers*v
1 Marsh Flitter*
1 Hornet Harasser*
2 Dreamspoiler Witches*
1 Warren Pilferers*
1 Liliana Vess*
1 Knucklebone Witch*
1 Nightshade Stinger*
2 Quillslinger Boggart
2 Spiderwig Boggart
1 Faerie Tauntings
1 Mournwhelk

2 Silvergill Douser*
1 Ringskipper*
1 Whirlpool Whelm*
1 Glimmerdust Nap*
1 Broken Ambitions*
1 Paperfin Rascal
1 Captivating Glance
1 Merrow Commerce
1 Inkfathom Divers

2 Thundercloud Shaman
1 Lash Out
1 Stinkdrinker Daredevil
1 Inner-flame Acolyte

1 Thorn of Amethyst
1 Wanderer’s Twig

1 Doran, the Siege Tower

1 Jagged-Scar Archers

1 Wispmare
1 Wellgabber Apothecary

I was torn about trying to go three colors with the deck to make use of the good Red, but I didn’t think I had enough Red to justify running enough Mountains to pay the double Red for the Shaman. If I could have snagged a Vivid land or two I probably would have gone for it.

Playing out the Swiss I went 1-1-1, and I noticed that my deck felt decidedly underpowered when it came to some of the sick synergies I saw other people had in their decks. Could I have built it better, or did I just mangle my draft too badly?

Okay, that’s it for this week. For the readers who are U.S. citizens, I hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving, filled with loving family and good eats. I also leave you with a question that’s been a bone of contention here in the Smith house…

Pumpkin Pie or Sweet Potato Pie?

Take care,


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com