You Lika The Juice? – The Pack-Crackers

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Friday, December 18th – Are you a pack-cracker? I sometimes feel weird when, after getting my booster box comp for working at prereleases, I go home and rip open all the booster packs for singles to add to my collection or trade binder (to trade for more of what I need).

Are you a pack-cracker? I sometimes feel weird when, after getting my booster box comp for working at prereleases, I go home and rip open all the booster packs for singles to add to my collection or trade binder (to trade for more of what I need). Not that pack-cracking doesn’t feel good – it surely does! – but I get reactions of horror from a lot of my “professional” Magic peers – the judges and Star City staff I work with, and fellow columnists I correspond with on Twitter and such.

“But… you could draft with those,” they stutter, baffled. I could, sure… but that would mean having to go around, day by day, with a box of unopened booster packs sitting there tormenting me, radiating potential solutions to my collection’s short-comings. It’s like having a box of Girl Scout cookies sitting there on your counter, being saved until you have company over to share, and not really knowing when said company is coming over.

When the new set releases, I usually buy at least one more booster box. It’s tough, because I don’t have but so much disposable income, but time and time again I’ve found that it’s better to spend up front to buff up your singles collection than having to spend the next few months bleeding green trying to buy all the individual singles you need. Not that I ever totally avoid that – Magic’s random distribution is notoriously vicious to me – but I get a big head jump in filling out my playsets by cracking those packs, and it stocks my trade binder so that I can trade for more stuff.

Opening up a booster box of Magic cards is actually quite dramatic. There are heartbreaks and triumphs; there are fist-bump victories and crushing defeats. As the wrappings fly, a voice in the back of your mind wonders, “what will your foil rare be? Lotus Cobra?” In one of my prize boxes, the answer was, sadly, Magosi, the Waterveil. Which wouldn’t have been nearly so crushing if it weren’t for the fact that I also opened 3 non-foil copies in the same box (there’s also some subtext to the story, namely I’ve already got a playset of that land along with 2 extras in my trade binder). Beatings. I’ve personally opened so many Magosi, the Waterveil that I’m suppressing their value amongst the local Magic players.

Periodically, Ben Bleiweiss tries to calm us down about card distribution bad-beats by assuring us that the rares — and now mythic rares — are actually sufficiently randomized. Star City opens a ton of product to sell as singles, and with a large enough volume everything evens out. Which doesn’t really calm me down too much because, as I open my eighth Celestial Mantle, I know somewhere out there someone is opening his or her eight Verdant Catacombs. “Another one?” they ask, surprised at their exceptional good fortune.

Not to dwell on the bad beats too much though, because there’s also that amazing rush when you open up that final Malakir Bloodwitch to fill out your playset, or finally crack your first Sorin Markov. Or you open a fifth World Queller and you know your good friend has been looking to pick one up. I remember opening my second box of Alara Reborn, and one of the cards I was most hoping to get, Maelstrom Pulse, I didn’t open the first one until the very last pack in the box. The bitter disappointment I was feeling as I opened the wrapper immediately evaporated into a heady mix of elation and exasperation – it had to be in the very last pack? Really?

Anyway, it occurred to me that cracking open lots of booster packs from each set like I do might be symptomatic of the sort of Middle Children of Magic that was recently discussed by blogger mtgcolorpie in a really excellent post. These are the folks who enjoy competitive Magic and are willing to invest time and energy and money into making sure they have the cards and the skills to do well at the tournaments they can attend, but for various reasons don’t make the jump to consistent pro-level play. These are the pack-crackers! For pros and aspiring pros, an unopened box of boosters represents the opportunity for several practice drafts or money drafts, to keep their Limited skills razor sharp. For the super-casual players, a box of boosters represents an expense way more than they’re willing to spend all at once.

Mtgcolorpie writes: “I’m sure that there are people wearing business suits, thinking about what deck to put together for the one night they’re not entertaining clients. I’m sure that there are players in college/rural towns that have the cards, but no one to play against. I’m sure there are parents trying their best to raise their kids and hopefully have some time, money and energy to go play cards once in a while. None of these group would consider themselves casual, but most likely get grouped in as well.”

His column really resonated with me. I’m pretty sure I likely get lumped in as a casual player, and that’s okay – I certainly enjoy casual games of Magic, and I love writing about Elder Dragon Highlander, a format that certainly strives for casual appeal. But I also enjoy competing in tournaments like States (the2009s) and doing well in them.

Again, mtgcolorpie: “The lost people between the wanna-be pros and the casual crowd. We’re the middle children of Magic.”

I’ve often called myself “casually competitive.” The middle children of Magic sounds good too! In the shuffle between focusing on the Pro Tour crowd and the kitchen table Magic players buying packs at Wal Mart, it sometimes feels like folks like myself get overlooked. But I think it’s nice that the PTOs like Star City are stepping up to make sure we’re getting the tournaments we want. Tournaments like States (now the2009s) – these are the tournaments players like myself have always loved, and thankfully the PTOs have kept it alive. Then there’s the awesome Star City Open & Invitational Series coming up – what some have nicknamed “The Joe Tour” — a big-time tournament experience with some awesome prizes, yet it’s not a part of Wizards “Road to the Pro Tour.” While there were some name pros playing in the Opens in St. Louis, by and large it looked filled to the brim with lots of Middle Children of Magic, getting online coverage by the dudes at GGSLive just like the big time. I find it all very exciting.

(By the way, mtgcolorpie’s blog features a comic strip by houseofsixten called “Lotus Cobra is Evil,” and it’s terribly amusing. Be sure to check it out; scroll to the bottom to read them in order.)

The State of Standard

So, Worlds set the stage, and then the2009s hammered the point home – Jund is dominating the format despite the best efforts of mages everywhere trying to take them down. We’re seeing maindeck Flashfreezes, Celestial Purges, Devout Lightcasters… and still it’s not helping.

What’s kind of amusing is the number of people – presumably the die-hard Faerie players who took a lot of grief over the years for “just playing the best deck” – who point to the statistics showing Jund is much more dominating than Faeries ever were and claim the format is busted and unfun. And yes, technically speaking, there are a lot more people playing Jund to Top 8 finishes now than there were playing Faeries. To reply I’d like to take some quotes from the forums of last week’s The Magic Show:

“A Jund centric metagame is still much more fun for most players than an Affinity centric metagame or a faeries centric metagame.”

“This just in: People like attacking with creatures. They like it when their spells resolve and they can do fun things with their cards. They are also the vast majority of Magic players.”

As frustrating as it is to play against Jund, ultimately it doesn’t feel as bad as it did playing against Faeries because when playing against Jund, during your turn, you can draw your card, use your mana, and resolve a spell or two. You can also — usually — attack for profit instead of running into a Bitterblossom token every turn (which incidentally made the Exalted ability much less good, whereas now Hierarchs are insane, and even maindeck Qasali Pridemages are a rocking good choice). Unless your deck is slow as molasses, it’s not nearly as soul-crushing as it was to play against Faeries, where your cards were being countered, your mana getting tapped down during your upkeep, and your opponent had more things to do during your turn than you did.

Let’s pull a little higher up and take a look at the metagame from the perspective of Magic’s five colors. If we look at the top five archetypes, we’ve got Red (Jund, Bushwhacker, Naya, RDW), we’ve got Green (Jund, Naya, Bant), we’ve got White (Bushwacker, Naya, Bant), and a smidge of black (Jund) and a smidge of Blue (Bant). So Red, Green, and White are on top of the heap, with Blue and Black making token appearances.

Let’s widen our lens and think about the relative strengths of the colors throughout the history of Magic. Blue of course has been a consistent powerhouse for nearly the entire run, with Black running a very strong second. In a historical context, I think it’s a good thing for Blue and Black to take a bit of a beating for a while. It won’t last forever… but I wouldn’t be surprised if Wizards ratchets up Blue and Black’s power level at a very slow pace, looking to achieve an equilibrium maximizing fun play and color balance.

Here are the Top 10 most played cards (excluding lands played just for mana) from the 2009s:

1. Lightning Bolt
2. Bloodbraid Elf
3. Maelstrom Pulse
4. Blightning
5. Sprouting Thrinax
6. Terminate
7. Broodmate Dragon
8. Bituminous Blast
9. Path To Exile
10. Garruk Wildspeaker

Four of these are cheap, 1-for-1 (usually) creature removal spells. The rest represent card-advantage spells. Let’s do an interesting exercise – close your eyes, and tell me what colors of Magic comes to mind when I say “imagine a deck that is filled with creature control and card advantage cards, drawn from any set ever printed.” What colors come to mind? I’m willing to bet a lot of Blue and Black cards come to mind. It’s actually pretty cool to realize that Wizards has taken creature-control and card-advantage – two very, very potent and powerful types of cards in Magic – and have given them to colors other than those that have had nearly a hammer-lock on them in the past.

Back to the Top 10 cards – obviously, the cards found in Jund are terribly over-represented due to sheer numbers. Let’s strip out the cards that are pretty much found in Jund and see what we’ve got:

1. Lightning Bolt
2. Path To Exile
3. Garruk Wildspeaker
4. Oran-rief, The Vastwood
5. Baneslayer Angel
6. Noble Hierarch
7. Burst Lightning
8. Ranger Of Eos
9. Master Of The Wild Hunt
10. Goblin Guide

We’ve still got removal cards, of course… but now we’ve got more card-advantage cards. Garruk Wildspeaker , Range of Eos, and Master of the Wild Hunt are very nice sources of card advantage, producing multiple threats that, given time, require multiple answers to deal with them. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome that Wizards has found nice ways to diversify card-advantage into other colors.

Oran-rief can be counted as quasi-card-advantage, letting you get a spell-like effect without costing a card slot, and often making creatures larger than one removal spell or creature-combat trade can handle.

Rounding out the list are Baneslayer Angel, Noble Hierarch, and Goblin Guide, all creatures that are incredibly efficient for their mana cost.

Of all the cards on either list, I think the biggest “problem” card is Blightning, which is made doubly powerful when Blightning doesn’t cost any mana or a draw step from a Cascade. Getting hit with one Blightning is usually survivable, but when you get hit by two or even three of them (or toss in a mulligan into the mix) it is usually game over, and the Cascade spells increase the odds of “oops, I win” considerably. I know there is some speculation of a Mana Leak variant in Worldwake with “multi-kick,” allowing you to potentially be able to counter multiple spells cast on the same stack, most often occurring from the Cascade ability. Obviously, that would be a pretty amazing tool in fighting Jund, but I’d also like to see something clean and easy: why not reprint Dodecapod? I wouldn’t be surprised to see that card popping up in M11, though obviously it would only be helpful against Blightning for the last few months before Alara block rotates out of Standard.

Anyway, I guess the point of my ramble here is that I’m not quite buying the hype that Standard is broken or unfun because of the dominance of Jund. As far as dominating, format-warping archetypes go, having to fight against Jund isn’t nearly as excruciating as its predecessors. And I have to admit to feeling a twinge of schadenfreude whenever I overhear or read about some pro or pro-wanna-be whining when a “bad” player armed with a Jund deck wins the Cascade lottery and wins games they have no business winning. Just a twinge.

I’ve got a Standard FNM tonight, and I’m not sure what to play. My rating from the2009s took a huge 72 point jump, which is pretty nice – I haven’t been at that level since 2002 Regionals. I want to play something fun and different, though I also have the urge to tweak my deck from the2009s and kick ass with it. As of this writing I have not yet made a decision…

And Finally… Presenting My New EDH Deck!

Alright, so my focus for the past few weeks was preparing for Standard and the2009s. The Friday before I didn’t play late-night EDH after FNM like I usually do so I could make last-minute tweaks, and of course making it to the finals prevented me from playing in any EDH side events. I have to admit I’m feeling some serious EDH withdrawals!

To satisfy the EDH itch, I’ve been working on building a new deck. I chose the theme based on Blue’s many “copy” spells. The idea was that, in general, Blue is the “*sshole” color of Magic – being particularly good at either preventing you from resolving your spells, bouncing permanents back to your hand and making you cast them again, or stealing your spells/permanents from you. Blue is also good at copying stuff, which is much less offensive; in EDH, you’d be much less likely to go on tilt if I copied your Seedborn Muse than if I took control of it permanently, right?

Plus, the notion of stuffing my deck full of copy spells really pushes the idea of, as Sheldon urges, “embracing the chaos.” Each game I play with such a deck is going to play differently, based on which decks I play against and which particular cards each “highlander” deck ends up drawing and playing. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

I decided to add Red to the mix because Red gets in on the copy action too, including some stellar good-time cards like Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror Breaker and Radiate. Of course, there aren’t so many Izzet-colored Legends to choose as a general; Niv-Mizzet is likely the strongest, but that fellow can sometimes spook a table with his potential to go buck-wild crazy. So I decided instead to go with Tibor and Lumia, a mostly inoffensive general with some useful abilities (especially given the popularity of token-producers amongst the local EDH’ers). The plan is keep a low profile so I can draw my copy spells and have fun trying to cobble together a path to victory based on spells other people are playing.

Anyway, this is what I’ve currently got sleeved up to play after FNM tonight:

Izzet Xerox EDH

1 Tibor and Lumia
1 Maze of Ith
1 Ivory Tower
1 Feldon’s Cane
1 Expedition Map
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Soothsaying
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Remand
1 Sun Droplet
1 Scroll Rack
1 Izzet Guildmage
1 Dance of Many
1 Fork
1 Twincast
1 Journeyer’s Kite
1 Izzet Signet
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Spectral Searchlight
1 Trinket Mage
1 Goblin Flectomancer
1 Gelectrode
1 Rayne, Academy Chancellor
1 Rhystic Study
1 Tenza, Godo’s Maul
1 Mischievous Quanar
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Sigil Tracer
1 Reiterate
1 Heat Shimmer
1 Mirror Sheen
1 Mizzium Transreliquat
1 Sculpting Steel
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Copy Enchantment
1 Thieving Magpie
1 Anger
1 Wonder
1 Cryptic Command
1 Turnabout
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Erratic Portal
1 Power Matrix
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Clone
1 Sakashima, the Imposter
1 Rite of Replication
1 Boldwyr Heavyweights
1 Wild Ricochet
1 Vesuvan Doppelganger
1 Body Double
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Followed Footsteps
1 Radiate
1 Mulldrifter
1 Izzet Chronarch
1 Mirari
1 Quicksilver Elemental
1 Mirror Gallery
1 Overwhelming Intellect
1 Opportunity
1 Mindwrack Liege
1 Reversal of Fortune
1 Nucklavee
1 Djinn Illuminatus
1 Vesuva
1 Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Spinerock Knoll
1 Steam Vents
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Scalding Tarn
13 Mountain
14 Island

A few notes:

Sigil Tracer: Tibor and Lumia are Wizards, plus I’m playing a fair number of other Wizards too…

Boldwyr Heavyweights: This is an incredibly scary card to play in a big multiplayer EDH game… and yet I’m excited to see what happens when I play it! Hopefully I won’t instantly die when I play it. Anyway, my reasoning for playing it: if everyone goes and fetches their best creature out of their deck, then my copy effects are going to have tons and tons of high-quality targets, right?

Mirror Gallery: I thought this would be fun so that I could Clone people’s generals without killing them, though I imagine if I Rite of Replicate some big, badass Legend there will be some sort of artifact-kill spell coming my way.

Anyone have any ideas of cards I’ve missed that would go well in this sort of deck?

Another EDH deck I want to assemble next is a “helper” deck, using Phelddagrif as the general, with the theme being lots of cards that will let me help out other players – help them out of being mana screwed, help them out of being picked on by another player, and of course helping the table if we’re being pounded on by one dominating player. So, in the spirit of helping, I’m sending out a request from you all to help with ideas for cards to include. Hit me in the forums.

That’s it for this week! If anyone is doing any pre-Christmas holiday traveling, I hope your trip goes smoothly and safely, and don’t forget to tell the important people in your life how much they mean to you.

Happy Holidays!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

New to EDH? Be sure to check out my EDH Primer, part 1, part 2, and part 3!

My current EDH decks:
Tibor and Lumia (copy copy copy copy)
Doran the Siege-Tower (toughness matters!)
Baron Sengir (Evil Vampires!)
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (big mana spells)
Sharuum, the Hegemon (equipment.dec)