You Lika The Juice? – The Love and The Anger

I have some news for you: I’m in love. It started as a flirtation and has since grown into a full-blown affair. She can do no wrong, my girl. She walks on water, she heals the sick, and brings peace on Earth. And she’s hot as hell.

I’m talking about Saffi Eriksdotter.

The Love…
I have some news for you: I’m in love. It started as a flirtation and has since grown into a full-blown affair. She can do no wrong, my girl. She walks on water, she heals the sick, and brings peace on Earth. And she’s hot as hell.

I’m talking about Saffi Eriksdotter. Sigh…

At Champs, one of the last adjustments I made to my G/W decklist was to make room for two Saffis, and man was I impressed! When I drew her, she proved critical in keeping important board presence, whether it was an Ohran Viper, Magus of the Disk, or a Spectral Force.

The problem with just two copies was that I didn’t draw her often enough. In my recap of Champs, I mentioned that one critical mistake in deck building was running Chords of Calling instead of Stonewood Invocation. Running only two copies of Saffi was another big mistake.

To test the theory, I took G/W to a recent Friday Night Magic with my adjusted G/W decklist. Here’s what I ran:

I was incredibly happy with this configuration. I went 3-1, with one match loss against a Boros deck that drew a ton of burn aimed at my head while I drew none of my Hierarchs, despite drawing something like ten extra cards from Vipers in the final game. I missed out on the Top 4 on tiebreakers, but had a good time and was awarded a foil Wood Elf.

Saffi performs exactly as she was designed to do, effectively jumping in the way of impending doom on one of your other creatures. If you’ve got to sweep the board, it’s nice to know your Magus of the Disk can survive one attempt on his life. Spectral Force is an absolute beating against many decks, and if you can protect him from the one Mortify your opponent manages to top deck, you’ve probably gone a long way towards winning.

If you’ve been paying attention to the metagame (or reading Mike Flores on the premium side) you will have noticed that Wrath of God is all over the place. As a lover of creatures, I’ve long hated and feared that pisser of a card. For just four mana, it comes along and washes out all of your critter fun. I kinda thought Ghostway might have been the answer to my prayers, but holding back three mana once your opponent gets to four lands tends to make your deck run considerably less impressive.

Saffi, my sweet love, changes that equation. She’s a Seal of Protection from Wrath… that can swing for two in the meantime. With a Saffi in play you can lean in a little harder, go ahead and drop that Spectral Force even in the face of your opponent signaling a pending Wrath.

Lastly, Saffi is part of a three-card combination in this deck that is flat out ridiculous. You have an untapped Magus of the Disk, a Loxodon Hierarch, and Saffi. Sacrifice Saffi targeting your Hierarch. Then sacrifice your Hierarch to put his “regenerate your team” effect on the stack. Saffi’s ability triggers, bringing back your Hierarch in time to benefit from the regeneration shield (and padding your life by another 4 points). Then activate Magus to destroy all creatures, enchantments, and artifacts while all of your creatures stick around.

Then duck when your opponent reaches over to smack you upside the head for such a rude and obnoxious play.

Anyway, if you love playing creature decks and can support Green and White mana, I’d highly recommend playing four copies of Saffi. Her legendary status has never been a problem for me because she is quite often saving one of your team (or getting hit by removal herself) by the time you’d want to play the second copy.

Lastly, I’d like to toss out another Saffi-centric build I’m kicking around for Extended that utilizes the Crypt Champion combo. Here it is:

In case you haven’t seen the combo (also kicking around in Standard), basically playing a Crypt Champion with Saffi Eriksdotter either in play or in the graveyard creates an unbounded loop so long as the Champion isn’t played with Red mana. It’s sacrifice effect triggers, you respond by sacrificing Saffi targeting the Champion. The Champion dies, and then comes back, putting Saffi back into play. If you’ve got a Soul Warden in play, you can gain an arbitrarily large number of life to buy you all the time in the world. The kill comes from doing all that sacrificing and bringing back and then putting a Caller of the Claw into play, creating an arbitrarily large number of 2/2 bears. Caller has the virtue of having Flash, and is also only three mana, the magic number for Crypt Champion reanimation, so you can use Caller early for chump blocking and have it around for later to win with. Saffi is really awesome in this deck, since she can keep vital creatures like Dark Confidant in play or get Eternal Witness recursion without having to replay it (say, sacrificing the Witness to a Therapy after you’ve sacrificed Saffi targeting her).

The mana is obviously a mess with this three-color monstrosity and if there are any mana gurus out there who know how to fix it feel free to let me know!

And the Anger
It’s a terrible thing when something that sounds so good can sour so quickly. Back in October, BDM’s The Week That Was dropped a bombshell that literally had me jumping out of my chair in excitement: Introducing City Championships. This is the description:

City Championships are a series of store-based tournaments held in some countries. City Championships are held over the course of a City Championship season. Each designated city culminates with a City Championship Final.

Top finishers at City Championship Finals may earn byes to Regional Championships or Invitations to National Championships.

BDM goes over the details quite extensively, so I’d recommend following the link above and reading the column if you haven’t already. My takeaway from reading it though? This is perfect for competitive / casual players like me. Like a large portion of the Magic-playing population, I am not able to eat, drink, and breathe Magic 24/7; I have a life and jobs and responsibilities that keep me from dedicating the ridiculous amount of time it takes to be a Pro. And yet I am as much a Magic addict as anyone, and enjoy competing when I can.

It’s no secret how frustrated I sometimes get with many at Wizards and their extreme bias towards the Magic Pro Tour and Pro Players. Yes, the Pro Tour is exciting, and the stars of the game should be rewarded, but in the frenzy to make the Pro scene the ultimate “cool player’s club,” it becomes more and more distant and detached from the rest of us who are outside looking in. If the Pro Tour becomes too exclusive, people will stop caring. There’s a delicate balance there, to keep the Pro Tour both accessible and special. Wizards has lavished a ton of time and energy making the Pro Tour special, but accessibility to the average player has been relatively unchanged since its inception. You want a shot at playing on the Tour? Slug it out in a PTQ and be the winner, or go to a Grand Prix or Regionals and place near the top. Or tend and guard your DCI rating like a jealous lover, constantly worrying about REL levels and the ratings of your potential opponents.

City Champs offers a brand new doorway to the big time, earning winners invites to Nationals and top finishers byes at Regionals, which everyone knows from the Grand Prix experience is a nice leg up towards finishing high enough to matter. And they offer it in a great format – by playing your local friends and acquaintances over a period of time, as opposed to the cutthroat grinder of an individual PTQ.

When I read about it, I immediately fired off an email to the owner of a local game shop, Richmond Comix:

Hi Frank – I was just reading about the new City Championship tournaments Wizards is rolling out. I was wondering if you were going to be participating, and if so when you’d be holding your qualifying tournaments? I work a lot (both a full and part-time job, plus two small kids), so it’s tough for me to just randomly have free time to go play Magic, but if I know ahead of time when you’d be holding yours I can try and make sure I block off time to come play in some of them. I think they’re supposed to run January – April. Hope to hear from you!

Sadly, Frank – who holds regular FNM tournaments – had not even heard of this, which didn’t bode well. Still, he checked into it with his Wizards rep and relayed to me some disheartening news:

Bennie, Richmond is not among the cities which are in the "Beta Season" of City Championships… the closest to us are either VA Beach or Washington DC… sigh…

Yep, that’s the moment when the warm fuzzies turned to the cold pricklies, and a new word was added to my Hate-o-meter: BETA.

Please explain to me just why you have to have a “beta season” for City Champs? I understand the concept that, when rolling out a new program, you sometimes need to test it on a small population to see what kinks come out of the difference between theory and reality.

But City Champs has been successfully run in Europe since 1999. What kinks are American hobby stores going to have that European hobby stores didn’t already reveal and overcome in the past seven years? It boggles the mind.

The only reason I can think of for hesitation in importing this successful program to our shores has got to be new access to the Big Time. From BDM’s column, it appears that adding byes to Regionals and invites to Nationals is something that the Euro version of City Champs didn’t do. Ilja Rotelli, who ran the program in Europe, has been working on bringing the City Champs to North America since he went to Renton, Washington in 2003.

Chew on that a minute. It took three years working at Wizards to bring us just the Beta version of an already successful program. The only reason I can imagine it took that long was entrenched resistance towards changing the rules of accessibility. People have been screaming for years about letting State Champs “matter” by feeding a higher tournament, either by providing byes for Regionals or invites to Nationals. Instead, we get a couple more State Champs a year, with cool prizes but with the same level of access to the Pro Tour: zero.

The City Champs program is encouraging, and yet I can’t help but be frustrated by the execution. Limiting the beta rollout to a select 44 cities, and offering the distinct benefits to only those players feels unfair. Presumably the DCI has some sort of rationale in choosing the lucky 44; I imagine it went something like this: we’ll only allow an extra 40-odd invites to Nationals right now just to see how it impacts that tournament. Let’s take the largest 40-odd cities or biggest 40-odd areas with registered DCI members and give them the chance.

For those of us living outside of the anointed areas, consider how it’s going to feel competing in Regionals next year, slogging it out starting in Round 1, while a likely not insignificant number of other players will get byes that you had zero shot of competing for. In a Grand Prix, players get byes based on rating and pro points: they control their own destiny. At Regionals, players get the opportunity for byes based on the whims of Wizards.

I know Wizards overall has the best intention here, and that the ultimate goal is to actually expand access (“the Road to Worlds” and all), and that makes me happy. But their execution leaves much to be desired, and feels brought on by an apparent systemic bias against the average Magic player that drives me nuts sometimes.

A better, fairer Beta season could have gone something like this: open up the City Champs Beta to any city that wants to try and run it, but don’t offer any byes or invites yet. Instead, use the Beta as a way for the city to “prove” itself by successfully meeting some reasonable thresholds of participation. Once a city has successfully run a City Champs Beta, they’d then be allowed to run a City Champs program as detailed, with byes and invites and all that.

Would I be on a tirade if Richmond were one of those 44? Likely, my excitement over the upcoming City Champs would have blunted my irritation, of course. So perhaps it’s a good thing that Richmond got overlooked in the Beta so that I could step forth and give voice to what I suspect is a fairly large population of Magic players whom have gone from smiles to frowns as they realize they don’t live in one of the privileged areas.

I’m obviously very interested in hearing what other people think of all this, so please let me know in the forums!

Until next time,