Innovations – The Secret to Reviewing M11

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Monday, July 5th – With the Magic world focused on the spoiled cards from M11, it seems we are awash with New Card Opinion. Today, Patrick Chapin breaks free from the shackles of such set and card review technique, and delves a little deeper… [Warning! Contains Spoilers!]

When writing a set review, surface level observations are generally a dime a dozen. We are better than that. Let’s take a look at an example from M11.

Serra Ascendant
Creature – Human Monk
As long as you have 30 or more life, ~ gets +5/+5 and flying.

So what you are saying is that Serra Ascendant is going to be a powerful EDH card? No! You don’t say? Is it because it is a Monk and there are 32 Monks legal in the format (17 of which were from the Kamigawa block)? Or perhaps it is because in Elder Dragon Highlander players start with 40 life, so Serra Ascendant is a 6/6 flying lifelink for one mana?

Oh, Obstinate Baloth is good against Jund? Well, glad we cleared that up.

You want to do a one-sentence-state-the-obvious review of the card? Give us something, anything, just some payoff for actually going to the trouble of reading your article! For instance-

Pyretic Ritual
Add RRR to your mana pool.

Might be good if you are desperate for a ritual.

We can do so much better than just repeating the text of the card (Doom Blade will be good if you want to kill a non-Black creature), and we can do better than just Captain Obvious style. Serra Ascendant is not super exciting from a tournament Constructed standpoint, but let’s dig a little deeper and see if we can find a potential application.

She is yet another White lifegain card that has aspirations of ridiculous life totals. Maybe there is some deck with Felidar’s Sovereign, Baneslayer, Soul’s Attendant, Perimeter Captain, Ranger of Eos, Wall of Reverence, Youthful Missionary, Survival Cache, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin, or perhaps Marshall’s Anthem, but this is more than anything surely a possible fringe strategy. Why is Serra Ascendant unlikely to dominate Standard? A 1/1 lifelink for W doesn’t have enough impact on the board to be good in its own right, and this card only does big things when you are at 30 or more life, which is no small feat, especially given how aggressive Standard can be. This wouldn’t be so bad, but even when she is ultimate, she is not actually that tough to deal with, a la Doom Blade.

It seems pretty clear why 90% of set reviews would summarize this guy with the EDH comment and move on…

Let me take one more shot at it. How about Rest for the Weary? Gaining 8 life for only two mana is a lot. Even with his lifelink, the natural curve only puts you at 29, so you are ideally going to follow it up with another lifegain spell on turn 3, but now we are talking about a pretty aggressive start. The trick? Not being cold to removal. Snap judgment: Great card in some bad decks, actually turns out to be mostly just an EDH curiosity, slim chance of some crazy synergy driven deck that turns it into a archetype cornerstone. Besides, this card is not for everyone, and trying it doesn’t “lock you in for life.” If it doesn’t work out for you, just move on to the next idea.

My commitment is to finding the truth, not consistency.

For instance, as the number crunch comes in, it looks like Imperious Perfect is not in M11. There is no 1/1 Green Elf token, which sure makes it look pretty clearly like nobody’s perfect. Should I try to back up the Imperious Perfect rumor until it is disproved officially? Why bother? It is not consistency that matters here, it is truth.

You want to try your Mono-White lifegain deck? Don’t mind the haters. Those that have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours. Never be afraid to try something new. The Ark was built by an amateur. The Titanic was built by professionals. Whether branching out in writing style or finally trying your hand at Mono-Red aggro, getting out of your safety zone is a sure-fire recipe for experience. It may not bring you the trophy or the paycheck today, but a life filled with experience is sure to make you strong, and those things are drawn to strength of character like a magnet. It isn’t enough to learn on a theoretical level. If you don’t have the courage to apply the wisdom, it is for naught.

At the same time, it does not serve us to be so hard-headed that we find ourselves attached to an idea that we can’t see past it. Let go of your preconceived notions, even the things you think you need. Tell me what you need and I’ll tell you how to get by without it. No one seems to get your idea? The fact that no one understands you or your idea doesn’t make you an artist. In fact, every kid is an artist. The trick is figuring out how to stay an artist when you “grow up,” (or in Magic terms, when you get serious about tournament play). Do what inspires you. Create that which you find beautiful. Do what you love.

For instance, how many people love Mono-Black? That has got to be the most attempted and desired archetype that hasn’t worked much in a long time. Still, if you love it, try it. Think about it. Explore it. Somebody has to bring it back!

A lot of people have asked me about this guy in Mono-Black:

Phylactery Lich
Creature — Zombie
As ~ enters the battlefield, put a Phylactery counter on an artifact you control.
Phylactery Lich is indestructible.
When you control no artifacts with Phylactery counters on them, sacrifice ~.

This guy certainly does have potential, and yes, his casting cost would tend to nudge you towards Mono-Black, but let’s take a critical look at this guy for a moment. First off, lets avoid stuff like “this card would be good in a deck with artifacts, so here is a list of Basilisk Collar, Everflowing Chalice, and any other artifacts I think are playable in Standard.” Don’t get me wrong, it is great to save people the trouble of looking those cards up themselves, but we can do better. First of all, a key point to remember right now is that there are a lot more artifacts than just the colorless ones. It is unclear how many would be ideal for the Phylactery Lich’s purposes, but the two that jump out at me are Veinfire and Mistvein Borderpost.

Before we let a side-trackery grinch try to make the conversation about everything that could possibly go wrong when they Maelstrom Pulse your Borderpost, let’s think about what exactly we are getting. If you use a Borderpost in a deck that can reliably play Phylactery Lich turn 3, you are buying a 5/5 indestructible Zombie. That is pretty freaking good, since it just bashes through most things and is incredibly difficult to kill through traditional means. So there is legit upside; what is the risk? You are setting yourself up to get “wrecked” by artifact removal or bounce, but it is more than just that. Red, White, and Green can kill artifacts easily, Blue has bounce, and Black has no shortage of Edicts. This isn’t even getting into cards like Path to Exile and Wall of Denial. What this means is that every color has tools to fight the Lich. This is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it does mean that it is probably better to view the Lich as an attempt at “good value” rather than an end in and of himself.

Why the distinction? If the Lich was good enough to generally be unstoppable against a number of opponents, it would be more enticing to play even bad artifacts to try to make him work. If we are only getting good value out of him, then we need to be pickier about the artifacts with which we keep company. Still, at the end of the day, if you Phylactery your Borderpost, how much are you really risking? It is like a 5/5 indestructible for 3 that means, if they find a way to kill one of your mana, you lose your guy. That is not actually that big of a risk, when you think about it. If everything goes wrong, it is almost like a Balduvian Horde for a mana less.

The other temptation when reviewing a card like this is to crutch too hard on the “It is going to get better when Scars of Mirrodin comes out” argument. Oh! Really? This card that has the word ARTIFACT on it is going to change in power level when Scars of MIRRODIN comes out? You don’t say!?

Err, wait, I already used that joke earlier…

While it is important to keep this information in mind, if you are going to state the obvious, a good technique is to inject a little humor into your writing, as discussed above. No matter who you are, a little humor can go a long way in Magic writing.

How does one “Be Funny?” To start, something isn’t funny if there isn’t at least a grain of truth to it. Remember that. There are a lot of forms of humor, ranging from the stand-up style of comedy Oysp Lebedowicz and Gerrard Fabiano are so skilled at, to something as seemingly low-brow as the puns on which LSV and Matt Sperling thrive.

LSV? Now LSV is funny. There are many writing styles. Slapstick, puns, these may seem cheap, but they are funny with proper delivery, and part of the brilliance is the elegance. (We Smite wanna play around this one…). LSV is such a master at this style, as he truly loves it and it shows. He uses them time and again, but without forcing it. Remember, part of the reason it works so well for Luis is that he is now “known for puns.” Just think about how many bad puns he had to make and be berated for before he crossed that threshold into getting instant positive responses from everyone? This is not to say that you should just pick a style and repeat it ad nauseam. What it does mean is that sometimes the meta joke is funnier than the joke itself. LSV producing a pun has taken on a whole other sort of meaning.

The take away? Indulge in and explore that which moves you. Whether you are filling in the blank with writing, deckbuilding, knock-knock jokes, irony, or anything else, I truly love when a woman or a man does “X” in the room or on the screen with me, so long as they love it.

As far as “trying to be clever,” it is a tough game. Consider Timothy James Aten, Patrick Sullivan, Matt Sperling, Michael J. Flores, and Josh Bennett. There are some truly clever writers in the Magic community, and what they write down, down-right fierce like Shoryu-ken. LSV may have the most puns, but there are countless areas to in which to specialize. For instance, when it comes to holding Block up, then hitting up again, Zvi will finish your PT like Scorpion, and I’m not talking Giant.

It’s not enough to be clever and have something to talk about, however. Get out and live! Life experiences are the best inspiration for good writing! Like Serra’s Ascendant, I turn 30 in life next week, and things are looking up. I’m hitting up Richmond again and flying down to the M11 Prerelease. We’ll have copies of “Next Level Magic” down left, then its right to the gunslinging to battle whoever’s left, right? It is sure to be a start to an awesome weekend.

You want to be clever? Okay 007, why does anyone care that (37+35)-9=63? KO? Nah, me… well, I think that would have more to do with my prerelease proposition, than talking your ear off with a math equation. Can’tcha tell?

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
Naguib Mahfouz

Asking the right questions is such a fundamental skill. This goes without saying. What are the right questions? Well, that is a good start… I think the Lich is an interesting card that goes from bad to awesome really fast, so I have my eye on him. Still, I doubt that he is the Zombie affiliate that will end up helping me catch-em all, err whatever it is that we are doing. My heart belongs to:

Grave Titan
Creature — Giant
When Grave Titan enters the battlefield or attacks put two 2/2 Black Zombie tokens onto the battlefield.

As the 73rd writer to talk about Titans, I am guessing that readers have already heard a lot of opinions on the relative power level of the Titans, but that doesn’t mean that another wouldn’t be useful. I think the Red and White ones are decent, but not in the same league as Black and Green, which seem the two best to me by a lot. Before I can really explain my thoughts on the Black one, I want to talk a bit about the Green one. As far as the Blue one goes, well I will leave it as an exercise to the reader why I consider him The Last Airbender.

Primeval Titan
Creature — Giant
When Primeval Titan enters the battlefield or attacks, you may search your library for up two lands and put them onto the battlefield tapped.

Long story short, a good way to evaluate cards like this is with a little stock mana action, a la Sacher and Flores. Let’s see how much you are getting for your mana. If it is a good deal, someone will find a home for it. That is just how Magic works.

Primeval Titan is like a 6/6 trampler for 2GG (which is pretty freaking awesome) that makes you “buy” two Sylvan Scryings onto the battlefield for 1 mana each. In addition, every time he attacks, it is like you are drawing two cards. How much are two Sylvan Scryings onto the battlefield worth? In general, I would say that the fact that they hit the battlefield is about as much of a plus as it takes to equal out the diminished value of searching for lands later in the game. It is still awesome to get cards like Raging Ravine, but Sylvan Scrying always had the added benefit of helping get you out of mana screw.

There are a variety of ways to combine costs of cards, and I think that double Sylvan Scrying onto the battlefield is probably worth about 2GG, here. In my experience, I generally think that getting two cards worth 2GG each at the same time on one card is worth about 4GG. (In general, if you combine two effects worth the same cost onto one card, the card should cost about two mana more than either of the individual effects on their own, at least at medium mana amounts, which is why Gatekeeper of Malakir is good and Torch Slinger is not).

Does this mean Primeval Titan is costed correctly? I suppose if you consider 2GG for a 6/6 Trampler that draws two cards (or sorts) when he attacks to be properly costed. I don’t think he is broken by any stretch of the imagination, but he is definitely on the Baneslayer curve, so to speak. On raw power, he is through the roof, but it is power that is very difficult to direct in a useful way, so his awesomeness is somewhat tempered. That said, I fully expect U/G in Standard to adopt this guy in addition to Avenger of Zendikar (not to mention Obstinate Baloth in the sideboard…), though I gotta tell you, it would be a lot more exciting if he could fetch up two Creeping Tar Pits or two Raging Ravines. With Scalding Tarns or Verdant Catacombs, as well as Rampant Growths, Evolving Wilds, and so on, it is not that unreasonable at all, I think, particularly if you want something that third color has to offer, such as removal.

My snap judgment on Primeval Titan? I think he is the real deal. Will his price hold? I am being very cautious with speculating on prices of cards for this set, as there is an unprecedented number of good cards, which has me taking a step back to analyze what this means for the secondary market. As Yogi Bera would say, “The future isn’t what it used to be.” Most likely, many of the cards people are currently excited about will not pan out fully, but it is my opinion that Primeval Titan is going to be a mainstream powerhouse.

Let’s take a look at Grave Titan for a minute. To begin with, we see the surface level stuff. He’s 10 power over three bodies, all of which are Black. That is actually totally awesome all by itself. Think about how big of an impact Broodmate Dragon has had. That card was revolutionary. Grave Titan doesn’t fly, but he gives you even more body, not to mention a far easier cost. Even setting Deathtouch aside for a moment, we see that he draws two cards when he attacks, but his are actually more valuable than would first appear.

Where Primeval Titan suffers a little is that the raw power is not focused in the most useful direction. When you have 8 land on the battlefield including two you tutored up, you don’t need two more that much. However, when you play Grave Titan to try to stabilize, you know what you would love in order to make it more okay for you to actually attack? Untapped blockers to protect you from a counter attack. Grave Titan doesn’t give you quite as much stock mana value, but it does spend it in a more straightforward useful way.

There are little factors that also contribute. For instance, Deathtouch is a little better now than it used to be. How much will this come up with Grave Titan? Probably not often, but under M11 rules if you give the Grave Titan a Behemoth Sledge, it will only deal 1 damage to each blocking creature before trampling over for the rest. What about if you give Grave Titan first strike?

Sword of Vengeance
Artifact Equipment
Equipped creature gets +2/+0 and has first strike, vigilance, trample, and haste.
Equip 3

Obviously, it is going pretty big to give your Grave Titan a Sword of Vengeance, but nevertheless, Deathtouch combines extremely well with both first strike and trample, meaning pretty much any deathtouch creature is going to be unreal with Sword of Vengeance. If only there was a way to give a creature both Sword of Vengeance and Deathtouch…

Wait… you can play Stoneforge Mystic, Basilisk Collar, and Sword of Vengeance? We are probably going to have to let that one marinate for a few. Considering the implications of that core to a deck? Even the Sledge and Collar work super well under M11 rules, but I bring the Sword up because it is new, powerful, and requires fewer colors. The more I think about it, the more Sword of Vengeance just seems awesome. Stoneforge Mystic was already a fine card, but now it just seems like it has reached a whole other tier.

So, back to Grave Titan. The next attribute I would like to call attention to is his color. Black is a much better color for a fatty to be, in a vacuum, as Doom Blade effects are much more common that Celestial Purges. I don’t think Primeval Titan and Grave Titan are really competing for the same space, but it is a factor to consider. Actually, one of the best parts of Grave Titan is how little competition there actually is for what he really does. Primeval Titan competes with Avenger, Rampaging Baloth, Eldrazi, Pelakka Wurm, and more. What does Grave Titan actually compete with?

Many first attempts at Grave Titan may be Mono-Black. BDM recently blew my mind when he previewed Nantuko Shade, which is also in M11.

Nantuko Shade
Creature – Insect Shade
B: +1/+1 until end of turn.

It was not the unveiling of Nantuko Shade, however, that knocked me out of my socks. When is Nantuko Shade good? When you are playing Mono-Black, or nearly Mono-Black. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. What shocked me was when BDM reminded us of the existence of Haunting Echoes. How have we forgotten about that card for so long? Haunting Echoes is SO much more powerful an answer to Vengevine than Thought Hemorrhage, it makes me sick. Thought Hemorrhage is not a very strong card, in the abstract, but Haunting Echoes has such a better impact on the game. That is a card that should be kept in mind in the months to come.

Another interesting tool that Black has gained is Dark Tutelage.

Dark Tutelage
At the beginning of your upkeep reveal the top card of your library. You lose its converted mana cost in life, then put that card into your hand.

As you can see, it is just a Phyrexian Arena that works on the Dark Confidant method of life payment instead of one per turn. How good is this card? I will tell you one thing, Mono-Black has been desperate for card draw for a long time. That is the big thing that has held it back. Without Dark Confidant, Phyrexian Arena, Skeletal Scrying, or Necropotence, it is hard for Mono-Black to exist as a real deck, outside of aggro. This means that Dark Tutelage is at least the right type of effect. Now, the question is whether or not it is powerful enough.

Even if you don’t manipulate the top of your library (and I don’t think Crystal Ball is 100% out of the question, particularly if you Phylactery Lich), you are still not talking about that much life. If you add up the converted mana cost of the cards you are playing and divide by deck size, it is probably very common to average paying 1-2 life a turn. The thing is, there is a big difference between one and two life a turn. The decks I would first imagine are much closer to the two life a turn, which is a bit pricey for such an aggressive format as Standard. Still, it is interesting that you can play with cards that “cheat” the drawback a little, like Everflowing Chalice and Gatekeeper of Malakir. The implication is, of course, that cards like All is Dust look worse in such a strategy.

Where do you draw the line, though? For instance, I like Mind Sludge and Grave Titan, which means a lot of potentially painful hits from the Tutelage. Let’s take a look at the life gain for a minute. Maybe Dark Tutelage can draw us so many cards that we don’t mind such hard hits as much. Consuming Vapors, Corrupt, Tendrils of Corruption, Vampire Nighthawk, and Basilisk Collar are off the top of my head, and there are actually plenty more if you so inclined. Interesting.

Mono-Black Control
Patrick Chapin

2 Nantuko Shade
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
2 Reassembling Skeletons
2 Grave Titan

2 Disfigure
3 Dark Tutelage
3 Consuming Vapors
2 Diabolic Tutor
3 Tendrils of Corruption
3 Mind Sludge
1 Haunting Echoes
1 Corrupt

2 Basilisk Collar
1 Sword of Vengeance
1 Crystal Ball
2 All is Dust

26 Swamp

You may be shocked by the number of Nantuko Shades, but the card really does have diminishing returns. Trust me, the second Nantuko Shade is not nearly as good as the first. Now, I am betting that most Nantuko Shade strategies will tend to use four, but I think that it is perfectly reasonable to be open to trying other numbers besides 4 and 0, which is something that I think most people that pick up Nantuko Shade will not allow themselves the option of. Reassembling Skeletons instead of more shades, you might be asking? I think that Reassembling Skeletons has the potential to be truly awesome and may actually be that playing with less than three is the crazy thing. For those that missed him:

Reassembling Skeleton
Creature — Skeleton
1B: Return Reassembling Skeleton from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped.

This guy is very subtle, but very powerful. You can fire his ability at the end of your opponent’s turn, so there is actually very little opportunity cost in many scenarios (especially in Blue decks), but it is more than that. He is an excellent combination with Basilisk Collar, serving as an unkillable The Abyss. He also works well with Consuming Vapors (forcing opponent to over-commit), All is Dust, and Sword of Vengeance. I actually almost like him better than Nantuko Shade, but I am not sure if that is just preference of style, or if there is a chance that he is actually stronger. For the time being I am erring on the side of Shade on pedigree, but it is exactly situations like this where I think it is so much better to play with a bunch of miser’s cards so as to have some experiences with them and learn how good they actually are. Maybe Reassembling Skeletons aren’t that good, maybe they are too slow, but they are certainly worth trying as they offer a nice inevitability that combines so well with so many other Black cards, whereas Nantuko Shade is more of an Allen Iverson (albeit in his prime). He is a great player and can win games by himself, but he is a total ball hog.

Personally, I am more drawn to some sort of strategy using Cruel Ultimatum and possibly even Nicol Bolas himself. After all, old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill. Picture Grave Titan in a Grixis deck. What is he competing with? Siege-Gang Commander? One Sphinx or another? Could there be a better turn 6 play for a Grixis player trying to stay alive long enough to Cruel? He is also a truly awesome creature to get back with Cruel, should they find a way to kill him (Day, gang-blocking, etc).

That’s what I love about Grave Titan. He is not only once of the best six-drops of all time, he in a color that doesn’t have many good options for things to do at that spot on the curve. He gives you what you want, and he does it efficiently. You what the sick thing is about Grave Titan? If he turns out totally awesome, everyone will pretend they always said he was the best. Isn’t it amazing how many people retroactively remember Cryptic Command, Bitterblossom, Cruel Ultimatum, and Vengevine? Obviously plenty of people liked each of these cards, but there is no use getting hung up on how wrong so many people are about new cards each time they come out. Instead, just let the results speak for themselves. You think a card is awesome that others don’t appreciate yet? Figure out how to use it!

The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.

Still, do not aspire to be a one-hit wonder. You can be so much more than someone that built a good deck, wrote a good article, figured out a good piece of technology, had a good finish in a tournament. Settling for nothing less than perfection as the final destination is much more useful than trying to make one idea heard. Look at Conley Woods. A few years ago, Conley came up with a sick Merieke Ri Berit + Thousand Year Elixir deck. It was actually really good, but almost no one believed him. He even performed well in tournaments, but since they weren’t Pro Tours, he did not receive much world-wide attention. Did Conley get hung up on convincing people that this deck, those cards, that strategy was good? No. He would tell those that had ears to hear, but he focused on continue to perfect his craft as a master deck builder. Conley Woods is an artist. Rather than focus on making people understand him, he focused on continuing to perfect his craft and he learned the skills necessary to better communicate and share his ideas with others.

Nowadays, if Conley Woods showed up to Amsterdam with a Merieke Ri Berit deck, people would automatically give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it must be genius. What changed? Have you ever noticed that as soon as you get a girlfriend, the women tend to come out of the woodwork? Why? It may be at least partially true that another woman “wanting you” makes you more desirable in the eyes of others, but how do you explain this being true even among women that have no idea you are not single? Note to my female readers: it obviously works the other way as well, but please forgive me if I default to language that is slightly less awkward than tons of qualifiers would be.

When you have a girlfriend, you don’t “try too hard.”

Somewhat counter-intuitively, there are few things as unattractive as someone that “tries too hard.” So many people (women too, not just guys) increase the level of “how much they try” when they have been single for a while. They might be frustrated and really, really want to meet someone, so they try really, really hard. The unfortunate result is that they end up more frustrated and generally stay single longer (which is not bad in and of itself, but when one doesn’t want to be…). There is little as unattractive as someone that tries too hard. Desperation is not attractive. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but it is generally indicative of wisdom when one does not have to do desperate things.

No one will ever win the battle of the sexes. There is far too much fraternizing with the enemy. Please also be mindful that I generally use the asexual masculine pronouns such as “he,” but this does not make the material any less applicable for women. Always remember that a woman that seeks to be equal to men lacks ambition. As far as getting a better reaction out of the other sex, remember a fundamental difference between men and women is that men generally respond better to explicit communication, whereas women generally respond better to implicit communication. What does this mean? A woman that wants a man to do something would often be wise to tell him what it is and to do it. A man that wants a woman to do something would often be wise to talk about something else entirely that shares enough common words and ideas so as to allude to that which is on the man’s mind, allowing the message to originate from within the woman’s mind rather than her ears.

Being in a rut romantically is actually very similar to being in a rut with Magic. Ever notice how streaky Magic players are? Not to make this article about LSV entirely, but again he is a perfect example. Once he won Berlin, it was like something clicked. Maybe he isn’t putting the pressure on himself. Maybe he is just more focused. Whatever the reason, once he was out of his rut, success gravitated to him.

You HAVE to get out of the hole. Climb out of that rut immediately. The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. It is so tempting when one is down, when one is depressed, desperate, or frustrated to indulge in self-pity. Hit rock bottom? Start climbing out! Do you have any idea how many people respond by digging? You can rise up out of that!

Noble Prize winner Bertrand Russell said it best. “Sometimes the only solution is to find a new problem.” In those days it took more than just promising to hope for change to win a Noble Prize. Russell was a master logician, an anti-war activist, and a writer championing his humanitarian ideals. He was even imprisoned for his pacifist activism campaigning against Hitler around the time of the Second World War. You want to be better at Magic? Try to understand why the masters of today and yesterday did and said the things they did. Want to better understand masters in Magic? Study masters outside of Magic. One doesn’t always agree with people’s politics, but that can actually be a further tool for developing better understanding, as disagreeing with intelligent people and respectfully analyzing their logic can be an incredible boon to an open-minded individual. Whether studying lessons from Sun Tzu or Winston Churchill, or perhaps even lessons from authors by way of fictional characters such as the Dread Pirate Roberts or Earl Sinclair of Dinosaurs.

Sometimes the only solution is to find a new problem.

You think things are a way that you know you can’t get out of? If you know you can’t get out of that situation, then perhaps it is time to look for reality to be a way where things are not that way. Even if you are 99% sure that is the way things are, if you are 100% sure you will lose if it is that way, then you should operate from the position that it is not that way. This is a simple and powerful tool that tournament players would do well to take to heart. This is actually a corollary to the “I need to draw Fireball or I lose” line of play. If you need to draw Fireball, or you will 100% lose, then you decide to play as though you will draw Fireball.

It actually applies to ruts with Magic, romance, even finding work as well. Often the best remedy for a rut in any of these areas is to simply occupy your mind with something else. If you are stuck in a loop that isn’t taking you where you want to go, try doing something else for a bit. Can’t win? Can’t meet anyone you click with? Can’t find a job? Being in a “funk” is a hell of a downer, and often the only solution is to find a new problem. You think the problem is that you can’t get a job and you don’t see an out? Do something else for a while. I am not suggesting that you just “will” your rent to be paid, but in general, if you have survived this long without a job, you are generally not in a “homeless on the streets next week” type of situation.

Finding a new problem to overcome can have a sublime way of changing your perspective on whatever it is you used to think was your problem. Can’t get a date? Stop trying. Find something else to do for a bit. Can’t win at Magic? Change what you are trying to accomplish, as it is clear that whatever you were trying wasn’t working. Sometimes this can be as simple as realize that you weren’t trying to win at Magic – you were trying to win at Magic using your B/W homebrew. Once you realize this, you can find a new problem such as how to win with Jund or Mythic. Again, I am not talking about netdecking being “better,” I am talking about if you aren’t winning and you play homebrews, sometimes a little stock action can go a long way towards getting your groove back, not to mention teaching you much more than you would have realized.

Instead of viewing your problem as “I can’t win tournaments,” perhaps view the problem as “I have not yet mastered all of the stock decks in Standard and without this understanding, I am not yet ready to beat the format with my own brew.”

So many players get so hung up on what they see as the only things can logically be. I’ve got news for you: life is far more incomprehensible than we can ever possibly imagine. Should we strive to master logic as best we can? No question, but when it comes down to it, logic is the art of going wrong with confidence. If fact, many would argue that the world a much tougher place in which to live, as the foolish are so often absolutely certain and the intelligent are full of doubt. Logic is our language, but an open mind is vital, as without it we are paralyzed by every “wrong shortcut” mentally. If there is logically no way out, then maybe try a little less logic, or perhaps consider if out is really where you want to be anyway.
Down on things because you don’t own Jaces? You know how many people send me messages saying things like, “I don’t have Jaces, Elspeths, Gideons, or Baneslayers. How can I make this budget G/W deck win the tournament?” Maybe the problem isn’t that you can’t win with your budget G/W deck. Maybe the problem is that you haven’t yet started trading to get the cards you want to properly arm yourself for battle. Just as some people need to spend a lot more time practicing to be as good as some people that don’t practice much, some people have to spend more time to acquire cards that other people acquire effortlessly. Life isn’t fair. Anyone that tells you otherwise is selling something.

At the end of the day, there are two rules for achieving success in Magic writing or any other venture you may find yourself in. 1) Never tell people everything you know.

What do Magic readers want? So often these days, people want knowledge, not wisdom. For instance, there is little chance that this article will be read as much as if I just talked about how M11 cards would function when forced into old Standard, as well as perhaps my latest list of Next Level Bant or Blue-White Control. Knowledge is of the past. Wisdom is of the future. A good Magic writer knows how to weave a fabric of knowledge. A great one uses wisdom as well.

For instance, readers probably think they want this list from Japanese Nationals:

But a year from now, this will not be the part of this article that sticks with them.

It’s take wisdom to understand wisdom. The music is nothing if the audience is deaf.
-Walter Lippmann

This deck would be an excellent home for the following new M11 card:

Fauna Shaman
Creature – Elf Shaman
G, T, discard a creature card: Search your library for a creature, reveal it to all players, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Yeah, he really is a Survival of the Fittest on legs. This guy is just incredible, and it is with much sorrow that I can only dedicate a few paragraphs today, as he deserves so much more. Let’s start with a stock mana evaluation. Grizzly Bears are not the real curve, though if they tapped for a Green mana they might be. Instead of tapping for a Green, this guy let’s you pay G to spellshaper your creatures into other ones. That is actually pretty remarkable. I mean, Worldly Tutor is a powerful card, and this card essentially lets you trade creatures for Worldly Tutors, but then cantrips (since the card goes to your hand, instead of the top of your library).

What are the most obvious applications? It sure does seem like the perfect card for Next Level Bant, a deck that was disturbingly short of two-drops before. Aside from the basic plan of just getting Vengevine after Vengevine, which doesn’t exactly need 40 minutes to win, he also combos very well with Ranger of Eos. The Fauna Shaman makes it easy to find a Ranger when you want it, but then gives you awesome things to do with the Birds of Paradise that you don’t actually really want anyway.

This is an excellent shuffle mechanism, which is certainly always nice with Jace, but he also opens up a toolbox angle. A single Qasali Pridemage solves a variety of problems, for instance. My snap judgment? Constructed staple, possible flagship, to borrow the Floresian method. It will not likely be in Next Level Bant, but another application involves discarding an Eldrazi (potentially even finding one to discard) so as to reshuffle your library at will, allowing any bullet to be used as many times as it takes. Another interesting feature is that if you play this guy on turn 2 against Jund, then untap, you are safe from Blightning, as it only takes one maindeck Obstinate Baloth to make Blightning a suicidal move. What will be very interesting is to see if someone can find a good creature to go get that will protect Fauna Shaman at instant speed, though perhaps this just means one of the first creatures Fauna Shaman goes and gets is Sun Titan in some match-ups. I can’t even imagine how insane this guy would be in some kind of Dredgevine deck. What about in Extended, where he can go get Iona (or anything else) on turn 3, then discard it to go get Body Double on turn 4…

I don’t know about you, but I am going to be working on this guy a LOT.

One last card that deserves a color pie discussion all its own, as well as a review of the actual possible Constructed applications of (which I will leave painfully absent), then I am out for the day.

Hornet Sting
Deal 1 damage to target creature or player.

There is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.

Dedicated to Teddy and the Rainmaker: You guys inspire me.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”