You Lika The Juice? – Uncryptic

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Wednesday, August 13th – You know, for all the complaining that I and other people have regarding Block and how Faeries is too good and such, if you look at it from a bigger scale the problem isn’t really Faeries per se. It’s a certain four-mana Blue instant…

Thanks to everyone who posted their condolences in the forums or emailed me last week; it was certainly a very tough time for our family, but the outpouring of support from you all for those of our immediate friends and family was a big help. It certainly helped reaffirm what I was trying to convey last week, and I wanted to share some sentiments a few folks emailed me.

My name is Bradley Flinn and I live in Woodstock New Brunswick, Canada. I recently had a death in my family and your most recent article really spoke to me. You made me realize the base of Magic, which is having fun and making friends. I actually took a deck list similar to your Doran ZurLark to Canadian Nationals for the grinders. I piloted the deck very poorly, and got very frustrated and almost ruined my weekend. Your article has made me realize how wrong my reactions were. I have become so competitive over the past couple of months that I forgot what it was like to just play Magic and have pure old-fashioned fun. I played in an unsanctioned multiplayer tournament that was definitely the highlight of my weekend, as it pushed player interaction and laughter. A lot of ridiculous cards were used, cards that would never see play in Constructed, but which really raised the fun factor.

I really feel that the way you shared your experience, and the points you made have altered my view about gaming and made me realize my mistakes. I thank you very much for everything that you have said, and I hope you and your family are able to make it through this loss. Losing a family member, no matter when or the circumstances, is never easy. Keep going and things will get better. Reading your article made me feel better. Thanks a lot, and I look forward to your next article.

Here was another one:

After reading your article, I am deeply in sync with how you see yourself and others on where they stand in life. I too come across this various times with my fiancée. She constantly is on my back, telling me to attend more tournaments because it’s what I love. I never have time since I am either doing schoolwork, working, or running tournaments as a tournament organizer.

You discussed Magic as a bridge that connects us to strangers; I definitely see that when I attend tournaments or prereleases, or attend other gaming stores. I see Magic as a way to make more friends. I don’t fully see Magic as competition most of the time, but I see it as a place where I can be myself, make friends, and of course it’s a good source of stress relief. Knowing you can meet new people every time you attend a prerelease or tournament is great… but now things are spreading out to gaming stores, it minimizes the chances of meeting new people and starting friendships, and means you’re likely playing people you already know, with familiar playing styles. I am sure everyone is constantly seeking out for new competition, since they would get bored if they faced the same people every time.

I’m excited when meeting new people, chatting up a storm before the round starts, possibly making a new friend within the game. And the friendship really starts as previous opponents enquire about your progress throughout the day. The more you share, the further you go down the Friends Chain… and who knows? Maybe you’ll end up on a cool new Magic team!

From my perspective, Magic gives you a chance to relax and have fun as well as being competitive… but in the end, after each game, you remember that it’s ONLY a game, while friendship lasts forever.

You know, people like Bradley and Chris are the heart of what makes Magic and the Magic Community so special, and my rather rambling column last week attempted to capture that spirit, to shine a light on what’s really important. I’m glad that I connected with these guys enough to motivate them to write and share their thoughts. This is not only why I play Magic, but this is also why I write. Magic players rock!

On the Invitational

In case you missed the bombshell announcement this week, here’s all that Mark Rosewater had to say on the subject:

Let me just rip off the Band-Aid. This year there isn’t going to be a Magic Invitational. As part of our Organized Play Department’s refocusing on grass roots programs, the Invitational was cut from this year’s schedule. What does this mean for the future of the Invitational? I honestly don’t know. The Invitational has had many bumps along its way, and we have previously held Invitationals held over a year and a half apart. It has been repurposed numerous times and, as it is my baby, I hope we will be able to do so yet again. That said, as of today, there are no current plans for when and where the next Invitational will be held.

When you think about just how long the Magic (former Duelist) Invitational has been going on, and just how celebrated and followed this event was, Mark’s brief statement on its fate is rather breath-taking. I can read between the lines and get the feeling that Mark is highly pissed about this decision, and given the weight Rosewater has in the company, to have him lose the Invitational — indefinitely — has me dying of curiosity regarding the office politics going on at Wizards. It feels like Organized Play has been given the power to do what it wants, in the name of “acquisition,” and they’re not afraid to stomp on toes and slaughter sacred cows. While I’m not at all opposed to shaking up the status quo in general, given that we’ve lost States/Champs and now the premier event Invitational has been so heartlessly axed, I can’t help but worry that whoever’s steering the ship now is throwing the babies out with the bathwater. There’s logical, smart, and insightful change, and then there’s change just because I can change. I have a feeling one or two years down the road, whoever’s driving this campaign will be out of a job and this period of time will be viewed as a direction that just didn’t work.

At some point, someone in Wizards indicated that States was a “failure” in terms of what they wanted to it to accomplish, namely drawing new players into the game, and they cut the program to divert those resources to some other unnamed programs. While States may have been a failure in that very narrow definition, I think most players who were aware of the States/Champs program would have given the program positive marks. The tournament was a bridge between the more serious, PTQ/Regionals-type of player and the more casual, Friday Night Magic crowd. Did Organized Play ever put any effort into expanding the player base for States? I mean, why trash a successful yet not perfect (in terms of drawing new players) program before you first try and modify it?

I view the Magic Invitational in a similar light. The last one sparked a lot of excitement when the standard “Pro-only” group was opened up to non-pros like Evan Erwin and Stephen Menendian. Imagine the excitement Organized Play could have driven down to the grass-roots players if they’d implemented a program where these folks might have earned a seat at the Invitational? Say, during a month of Friday Night Magics, each FNM the non-pro with the highest placing gets his name added to a drawing for a seat at the Invitational and the chance to play alongside some of the best players in the game! How cool would that be?

Again, it just strikes me as reckless and foolish trashing proven vehicles like the Invitational and States when it seems to me both could have been easily retooled to drive the new company goals.

Richmond’s PTQ: Flying Cryptic-less

You know, for all the complaining that I and other people have regarding Block and how Faeries is too good and such, if you look at it from a bigger scale the problem isn’t really Faeries per se. It’s a certain four-mana Blue instant. You’ve got Cryptic Command decks dominating the format, and non-Cryptic Command decks fighting for a place at the table. Take a look at Grand Prix Denver’s Top 8:

Quick N’ Toast, 1st place, Gerry Thompson: 4x Cryptic Command
Faeries, 2nd place, Lee Steht: 4x Cryptic Command
Mirror Master, 3rd place, Nathan Elkins: no Cryptics
Merfolk, 4th place, Kenny Castor: 4x Cryptic Command
Faeries, 5th place, AJ Sacher: 4x Cryptic Command
Quick N’ Toast (“Blackened”), 6th place, Kyle Bundgaard: 4x Cryptic Command
Quick N’ Toast, 7th place, Antonino De Rosa: 4x Cryptic Command
Doran the Explorer, 8th place, Hunter Burton: no Cryptics

So, six of eight are Cryptic Command decks, and when the dust settles two Cryptic Command decks duke it out for first place. What a diverse format! Shouldn’t we all pretty much start our sideboards now with 4 Guttural Response already? While Cryptic Command’s very existence bothers me (and I’ve ranted about Wizards’ Blue bias before, and I’m sure I will again), what also bothers me on a practical level is the fact that I don’t own a single copy of the spell, and it’s apparently nearly mandatory to include four copies of the spell if you want a shot at a Top 8. Since I’m only going to be attending one PTQ this season, I don’t see spending the money and/or burning through my trade stock and/or cashing in favors just to beg, borrow, or trade for a playset of Cryptic Commands, especially when nearly half of all tournament players will be trying to acquire their own playset for the tournament.

Plus, my interest in playing particular cards in a tournament is inversely proportional to how popular the card is with the “serious” tournament players. So it’s been rather interesting figuring out what deck to play at the Richmond PTQ August 30th. I followed the Grand Prix: Denver coverage with interest in the hopes of finding a non-Cryptic Command deck that felt right, and the winning decks from the Trials provided a few goodies. Take this one, featuring one of my pet cards from Eventide, Necroskitter:

I experienced the joys of Reflecting Pool/Vivid Land manabases when I played the Doran/Zur deck at Richie’s tournament, and this deck has a lot of that going on. Firespout and Soul Snuffers lay some serious smackdown on weenie creatures, while most of this deck’s creatures aren’t in the least bit concerned. What’s interesting here is that Bulkowski isn’t making the Necroskitters a focal point of the deck, with only two Soul Snuffers and one Incremental Blight able to kill creatures with —1/-1 counters outside of Necroskitter’s Wither ability. Of course, Necroskitter plays like Zur here in conjunction with Doran, hitting hard for four damage.

Stan’s deck jumped out to me by running the ultra-cool Scarblade Elite, a card I had a good time with when I won the Win A Box side tournament with my Assassins deck at the big Star City Magic Weekend a few months back. He also adds in the fun Quillspike/ Devoted Druid combo (with Rite of Consumption as a non-attacking finisher), and two Liliana Vess. Say, Bulkowski’s deck above ran two Lilianas too… could she be poised to make a more prominent move? Now, I’m not all that sold on Murderous Redcap and think that Crib Swaps are much better as “Assassin” removal cards.

Of course, while looking for good non-Cryptic decks, there are two of them that made Top 8 at Denver. I’m totally uninterested in running White Weenie, so my choice narrows even further. Fortunately, I’m kinda grooving on Hunter Burton’s Doran/Assassin build.

We’ve got the excellent Crib Swaps, we’ve got Scarblade Elite along with a good number of Changeling/Assassins to feed them, good beatdown creatures, and the ultimate “go-long” spell in Profane Command (and a full playset to boot). It’s certainly hard to argue with this mix of cards, though I’d be inclined to work 4 Guttural Responses into the sideboard and I’m curious to know whether the Treefolk Harbingers were worth their maindeck slots. Would maindeck Thoughtseize be a better bet?

Of course, then there are the Shaman-flavored Doran decks running around, like this one:

Leaf-Crowned Elder gives me the warm-fuzzies, but I can’t help but look at this list and worry about the lack of early action. I mean seriously, how good are Bosk Bannerets and Treefolk Harbingers that aren’t backed up with a Doran? And Wolf-Skull Shaman seems to pale alongside Vanquisher and Elite on the power scale.

While right now I’m leaning towards playing some sort of Doran deck, there are a few other ideas I’m still kicking the tires on. For one, Conley Woods‘ “deck tech” River Kelpie deck from Denver (he ended up 34th out of 600) has me interested in pushing my own Kelpie deck a little further, though sadly he ran Cryptic Commands. Next week I’ll dig deeper into Kelpie tech, as well as reveal my own take on Doran, in an attempt to zero in on a good deck to take to the PTQ. What non-Cryptic, non-Kithkin decks have you found to have promise?

See you next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com