Test of Endurance
Strategy: A warning against generalities
"Truth cannot be structured or confined."
I have made this mistake far too often when discussing Magic. In fact, it has been the root of many of my logical errors when it comes to Magic strategy, and I warn you to avoid it. Let me show you some generalities and how they can lead to incorrect strategies.
A player at zero life draws no cards.
If you can't kill me, I win.
A mono-colored aggressive deck without mana
acceleration should follow the Sligh curve.
Control beats combo.
Wait until the last reasonable opportunity to play
And this is why I get a little wary when I get into a conversation about Magic strategy and card names aren't present. There was an article not too long ago that said (paraphrasing here) knowing your deck had problems with big creatures is more important than knowing your deck has problems with Spiritmonger. It's somewhat true, because if your deck has problems with Spiritmonger only because of its size then Wurm tokens will also be a problem for your deck. I disagree with the problem here. You should not be saying you have problems with big creatures. If we're talking about type 2 and it's big creatures you fear, you should be saying your deck has problems with Spiritmonger, Wurm tokens, and Shivan Wurm. Any other big creature is irrelevant because it isn't played. If you leave card names out this can happen: "My deck has problems with three-power one drops." If you're playing type 2 and say this, shame on you! There are none (and don't talk about Basking Rootwalla, you know what I mean). If you name the specific cards you're worried about then you can better see if it's a real problem, because you should have an idea of how popular each card is. If there are no cards at all available that match the criteria, then you're obviously fine.
And how do we get more specific? By asking, "Why?" Control beats combo. Why? Because control can out-counter combo and disrupt them too easily. Now look at the decks in question. Can this control deck easily disrupt that one? I'm being too general still. Can this deck drop Illusions of Grandeur and Donate it without that deck being able to stop it? How do you answer that? Probabilities. 85% or more of relevant Magic strategy comes down to probability, not catch phrases.
"That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it."
By "respectably unfinished" I mean it's won 2/3 of its games in tournaments I've played it in but I feel strongly that there are significant improvements which could be made to the deck. Please remember that even if I did have a decklist I considered to be perfect for a given field, I wouldn't put it here. It's not that I'm trying to keep tech secret, heaven knows hardly anyone I'd play against would read this anyway, it's that I would rather other people THINK. You see, if someone only copies decklists, then that's one less person who is truly getting involved in the process. Deckbuilding is a giant puzzle that we all work on together. Make them work. Besides, who would be dumb enough to blindly follow my advice anyway? Lending me an ear is all I hope for, or would want.
That is your basic aggressive red-green, with some alterations to accommodate the incredible card-drawing/madness outlet: Ceta Sanctuary. I built it for the Grinders, where it's 6-0 or lose and the field's pretty wide-open. My reasoning was that aggressive decks have fewer auto-losses, and Ceta Sanctuary would considerably help in the matchups where it was an issue. If you're interested, I played in both of the type 2 Grinders and neither of the Sealed, and was eliminated in the third round of both. I would get into a card-by-card analysis of this deck, but it's an incredibly boring beast that I've spent entirely too much time with and I'm not sure if I'd rather re-analyze it or bang my head against a wall.
Issue: The M&M banana republic
"Real men wear purple."
I remember the first time we were asked what the new color of an M&M would be. I came across a store display with a tablet of ballots and a slot to deposit them. Suddenly I began to think deviously, and took several. I started filling them out for purple (clearly the best candidate on the ballot) and depositing them. After the first four or so I became quite bored and gave up. Now that I've spent several years in the Magic community, however, I can say with great certainty that someone somewhere voted several thousand times.
The problem with this is simple: even though blue was obviously favored to win (it's the most common response to "What is your favorite color?" by an impressive margin) we shall never truly know if the victory was legitimate. Blue stole the election and has been ruling with an iron fist ever since.
And now they're going to do it again.
I implore you to write the people at Mars and tell them what you think about their false democracy. I hereby propose that blue be dethroned (removed from primary production) and entered onto the new ballots. End the tyranny that is the Blue Regime! Oh, and vote Purple.
Update: There have been unsubstantiated rumors that Purple has won the recent election. If you have information regarding this, please contact me. Power to the people, and to the purple!
Deck: Carpe PM
4 Argothian Enchantress
"Carpe PM: Seize the night" was a slogan for Pleasure Island; a conglomerate of dance clubs and such on Disney World property. In this case, however, PM refers to Paul Miltiades, whose ideas I have blatantly plagiarized for this deck. Matt Miller was working on a similar deck at about the same time, but I'm not using the innovations I remember as being his: Serra's Sanctum and Soothsaying. Of course I've made some alterations.
The idea here is to draw unbelievable amounts of cards and use some mana acceleration to keep it going, then to attack with a tremendously large trampling Wild Mongrel or Verduran Enchantress. I listed this as "left wanting" because what little testing I have done shows that it rarely kills before turns five or six. That's nowhere close to fast enough. It has to either kill by turn 4 consistently or have a significant amount of anti-disruption techniques to make sure the kill goes through. An activated Pernicious Deed spells doom for this deck, and for that we could use Seal of Cleansing to make them hold off until it's too late. Terror, Aether Burst, and other similar spot removal cards can also spell doom, especially with the use of creature enchantments. We could use Dense Foliage, Robe of Mirrors, or some other untargetable nonsense. I would prefer, though, to just go faster. If you have any suggestions as to how I can speed this deck up, please let me know.
"Meanwhile, he's dropping such bombs as Eager
Cadet for the win."
How is it possible, in Odyssey/Torment/Judgment draft, to attack for 14 on the second turn without playing Rites of Initiation? The answer is at the end of the article.
Deck: Gore Riding on a Tornado
"I invented the Phyrexians."
I don't have a sideboard yet, sorry.
Ever since I saw Gravestorm I thought it would be good in block. Now is my chance to prove myself right or wrong. Most of the cards that empty your opponent's graveyard, are black, and wouldn't be insane to put into your deck are creatures. I thought it only natural to make it a beatdown deck, especially since now you can make good use of Grave Consequences. Oddly enough, this deck has a striking similarity to That, in that they are both beatdown decks using a three-mana enchantment to draw cards. I hope this doesn't become a new rut for me. For a while my deckbuilding could've been described as 1,342 flavors of blue-green tempo. In any case, I think that concept is quite justified here, as a result of the synergies I just mentioned.
The basic idea I had while making this list is to get some synergies with Gravestorm without violating any of the principles of a beatdown deck. 12 1 drops, 8 2 drops, 6 3 drops. Nantuko shade is obvious. Power greater than or equal to converted mana cost. The biggest question here was Gravegouger. Can I really justify a Gray Ogre just because it can help to trigger Gravestorm? Probably not, and it may come out. I'll have to see how things go, but what would you have me put in its place? Organ Grinder? That's a possibility, but 1 toughness does hurt it, Organ Grinder's ability isn't stupendous in a deck with Grave Consequences, and two cards can mean a lot. Should I forsake the mana curve and replace them with Faceless Butcher or Shambling Swarm? Heck, even Braids, Cabal Minion is an idea. I don't like Steamclaw, though, even if it can make Gravestorm and the Carrion guys much better. It just doesn't seem worth all that effort to me, and too many games are won strictly due to the creatures. I don't want to dilute the creature base, thereby reducing the chances of that kind of win to come up.
A couple cards probably have some people scratching their heads. Why would I use Strength of Lunacy? Because Unholy Strength is pretty decent. If it gives your creature flying in the process, it's better. If it gives you a valuable tool against the quite likely White Weenie deck, all the better. How about Crypt Creeper? Remember not to misplay this guy. He is NOT a sorcery. He is a 2/1 for 2, and if he's going to die anyway you get to shorten their graveyard. There will be a rare occasion when you'll want to use his ability without him clearly being about to die, possibly to remove Ichorid, Glory, or Genesis. Also on a rare occasion you'll find your opponent will have only one card in their graveyard at the end of their turn, and drawing cards is so valuable to you for whatever reason that you'll sacrifice Crypt Creeper just to draw a card off your Gravestorm.
Can it compete with Quiet Roar, Psychatog, or Black Control? I think it has a chance. Much like some species are on the "Endangered List" because they are supposedly in danger of becoming extinct, this deck is on the endangered list because it is in danger of becoming tier 2. I don't believe it will ever fall below tier 2. We'll have to see. Of course, feedback is more than welcomed.
The kitchen is now the Chuckwagon. The living room is now the Adventure Room. The back porch is now the Outpost, and the adjacent closet is That. The hallway downstairs is the Straight, while the hallway upstairs is the Narrow. The broomcloset downstairs is the Nook, and the linen closet upstairs is the Cranny. My bedroom is the Room of Wonders, while hers is the Hiding Place. Best of all, the downstairs bathroom is the Bathroom.
Issue: Reporter Reform
"…I just show people how crazy I really am
they laugh just so I don't come to their house and
f&#k their cat."
In case you aren't familiar, the DCI Reporter is the software most Tournament Organizers use to run their tournaments and to turn in the results of sanctioned tournaments. I have two recommended changes to the Reporter, the second of which is multi-faceted.
First of all, there should be an optional function to enter the decklists and to correlate them with the people playing them. This would help the TO since the computer could then print up the appropriate decklists when it randomly chooses who gets deck checked at the beginning of a current round. It could also print up any given decklist on command. This would make the tournament run a little more smoothly because it would eliminate the time required to search for someone's decklist. Furthermore, it would allow people to email their decklist to the TO before the tournament began. It should be able to accept Apprentice or Magic Online .dec files in addition to M:IE files. This would make the players a little more likely to have their decklists made out ahead of time, since many players will have already been playing the deck online so they'll have the list ready to go. As it currently stands they can write their decklist on the day of the tournament or the night before, so why bother with the night before? Having a decklist ready ahead of time is good for two reasons: they have more time to make sure it is correct and it makes registration run more smoothly. Also, the computer could check for legality of the list quickly and easily. I was one of the people checking for legality of the decklists before the JSS Open this year. The judges needed to check to see if a card was legal on several occasions, like Benthic Behemoth. The computer would do this quickly and efficiently.
I do think use of this feature should be optional, since it could cause issues of its own, like if the players come in without their decklists digitized and the venue doesn't have a LAN for them to enter it they'd have to write it on paper and then staff would enter it into the computer. This is especially true of limited formats. But a TO might use the feature for altruistic reasons if they knew what the DCI would do with the decklists, since the reporter would send them in with the tournament results. Some TOs already send in decklists to strategy sites. What would the DCI do with the decklists? They'd be added to a database which would give them very valuable metrics about any given format. They would know exactly how overpowered a particular card or deck is. They'd know what strategies would beat what. This would aid greatly in knowing what, if anything, needs to be banned/restricted/rotated/etc.. If they then shared this information with R&D it could be quite instrumental in creating future sets that are balanced.
The second recommendation I have seemed obvious to me. The DCI Reporter works off-line until after a tournament when the results are being reported. If it could connect to the DCI's server before or during a tournament it could have a number of very helpful features that currently do not exist. Looking up a player's DCI membership number would become much easier, for starters.
The second way this could help is with warnings. The difference between a warning and a caution is that a warning is reported to the DCI who keeps track of them. The theory is that if enough warnings accumulate that demonstrates a pattern of disruptive or suspicious behavior and the judges will be harsher with those players. This theory breaks down because most judges don't even keep track of how many warnings THEY have given a particular player from one tournament to the next. They most certainly don't know how many warnings other judges in other places have given that player, or for what. The Reporter, if it connected the DCI's database, would be able to let the judge know how many that warnings that player has received, how many warnings they average per tournament, and what the warnings have been for. I believe this is more important than it may seem.
The third way is probably more controversial. Currently, pairings in the Swiss system are done by standing, with exceptions given to those players who have already played each other. I'm suggesting that, for pairings not standings, the top level of tiebreakers should not be the average percentage of matches won by your opponents, but instead your DCI rating. The current rating would be given to the tournament site by the server.
Why would I suggest this? Some players seem to think that a tiered tournament would be a good idea. I disagree for two reasons: players from a lower tier wouldn't be able to win the big prize and there wouldn't be enough players to fill out a tiered system. Basically what I'm suggesting would have the advantages of a tiered system without its drawbacks. You would be paired against the person you have not played who has won the same number of matches you've won who has a rating closer to yours than any other such person. This means that someone who keeps losing, when entering a tournament, would be paired against someone else who keeps losing. This would give them a decent chance of getting into the winning bracket for a change, so the tournament would hold more excitement for them. At the same time, more experienced players with higher ratings would have a small advantage when it comes to cutting for the top 8. The reason for this is that the people with higher ratings tend to win more, which is why they have higher ratings. That means if your rating is higher than mine (and odds are they are) under this system you'd be playing, on average, against better players. That means your tiebreakers will probably be better. It also means there's less chance of you accidentally getting paired against a 1400-rated player get mana screwed and watch your rating drop 16 or 32 points. This small advantage would give someone with a 1650 rating a reason to shoot for a 1700 rating. Currently, your rating is entirely meaningless unless it's high enough to qualify you for something. I think adding a small strategic importance to the rating is a good thing, because it gives someone who has a hard time winning a PTQ something to shoot for. This would also make it harder for an absolutely terrible player to have unbelievable luck and qualify for a professional event. It would still be possible though, unlike in a tiered system, so they still have the pie-in-the-sky to shoot for. And they don't have to fall flat on their face all the time, either.
Deck: Revenge of the Dorks
The quality of green's 1-drops in OBC is undeniable. Wild Mongrel and Chatter of the Squirrel allow you to continue to use mana and Standstill and Keep Watch allow you to keep up the aggression right up to the end. With all your little dorks Overrun is quite the finisher.
The question is how does this deck deal with flying untargetable wurms. The obvious answer would be to kill your opponent, but those wurms can easily get there by turn 4. Overrun helps, but it probably isn't enough. Of course, Mutilate gives this deck problems, but black control is still a decent matchup. Tog really shouldn't be all that big of a deal, since you can put serious pressure on them and chump block if necessary. Divert and Deluge are in the sideboard to help deal with Quiet Roar, while Seedtime is for anyone playing blue and Arrogant Wurm is for Control Black. Of course, the sideboard is VERY rough-hewn.
So why no Wonder? Wouldn't these guys be much better if they flew? I only have four ways to discard Wonder, however, and I don't have that many Islands. It just doesn't fit.
Strategy (kind of): Unglued Draft
I was in an eight-man draft of Unglued at The Gathering Place tonight. Before I get too far, here's the decklist:
The guy sitting on my right was a kid I had always
been reasonably nice to, so I was hoping to have a
cooperative drafter. After I first-picked a Foul Play
out of the first pack, I quite plainly told him I was
playing blue. During the third pack he admitted to
having drafted two Foul Plays. I know I didn't pass any,
so those would've come to me. He wasn't even playing
blue, he knowingly hate drafted them. Can you imagine
what my deck would've been like with 4 Foul Plays?!
Translation for the people who play real Magic: that's
like having three Faceless Butchers. It really is that
good. There's hardly anything that gets rid of Foul
Play. Unglued has:
My first round opponent, Chris, sided in Ashnod's Coupon. I'm not entirely sure why, but it was kind of funny. His second round opponent (we were doing double elimination) actually resolved a Look At Me, I'm the DCI and with the help of Chris's Urza's Contact Lenses used it like a Lobotomy, taking Incoming which wouldn't have helped Chris anyway.
One thing that had a major impact on this draft was that they were allowing us to rip up random commons in place of Chaos Confetti and Blacker Lotus. There was only one Blacker Lotus in the draft, but it was absurdly powerful, especially since TJ also had Jalum Grifter and Double Play, both of which could now hit first turn, and he could use it later on to power up one of his TWO The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast Customer Services. There were, however, no less than seven Chaos Confettis in the draft, four of which were in the deck of the guy I faced in the finals. Chaos Confetti is a respectable card in this format if you play it like they were, but even so was disappointing me most of the time. Sound contradictory? The thing is it isn't very good in my hands because I'm not very good at resolving it. The guy who had four was. In any case, I highly recommend you require people to do exactly what the card says, tear it into pieces. If that brings their deck below forty cards, they bring in cards from their sideboard before the next game. This will severely limit the powers of these two cards, making them late picks that will probably make the cut because of the fact that you only have 30 cards to choose from (there's 10 cards in an Unglued pack) but they will be quite balanced. That and the store won't be littered with torn cards. Remember one thing: Chaos Confetti loses its novelty after the first 6 or 7 times you've resolved it in the same night. If someone doesn't want to rip their cards, they can not pick it or leave it in their sideboard.
I touched upon something that is a fairly important part of the format. From a 30 card pool, pick 21-23 cards (19 land is quite reasonable with this set's mana curve problems, more on that in a minute). TJ had four token cards in his sideboard. So of the 26 functional cards he picked he gets to deem as few as 3 non-playable. You'd better not draft out of color. Did you notice I had Denied in my deck? Do you have any idea how terrible that card is in draft? I never once got it to counter a spell. I seriously considered going into the fourth color (black) just to avoid having to play with crap like that. In retrospect it probably should've been another Plains. This aspect of the format makes the drafting itself incredibly important, and to some extent adds a bit of luck, i.e. I wasn't forced into taking 9th pick basic land so I get a better deck.
Another interesting thing about having 10-card packs is that there is an extremely low chance of any card you pass coming back to you, that chance being 0 after the second pick. Keep that in mind.
Ah, yes, the mana curve. If you're not playing white your mana curve essentially doesn't start until 4, and there aren't many good common/uncommon cards with converted mana cost greater than 5. So basically your mana curve looks like a brick wall. If you're playing white you get very solid two drops, Mesa Chicken and Knight of the Hokey Pokey. If you're playing black you might get Jumbo Imp, Temp of the Damned, or Poultrygeist, but the former two aren't all that relevant to whether you win the game anyhow. If you're playing green and you're lucky, you have Squirrel Farm. That card is stupendous. But these are the exceptions. Let's look at some commons that will most certainly make the cut and cost four mana.
And if you're willing to talk about uncommons, you get into even more great stuff at 4, like Miss Demeanor.
Speaking of Miss Demeanor, flying is incredibly powerful in Unglued draft. Aside from Urza's Science Fair Project, which will have flying sometimes if it doesn't kill itself first, and the 1/1 for 3 utility creature Clay Pigeon, only black and white have access to flying at all. No, blue has no flying. Furthermore, the only common fliers are Mesa Chicken and Poultrygeist. There are no cards that hurt flying, like Hurricane variants. Miss Demeanor is easily first pick, even over Foul Play.
Like I pointed out in my discussion of Foul Play,
there isn't much in the way of spot removal in this
format. Black in particular is weak in this department,
which is strange for black. What's even stranger is the
unusual prevalence of mass removal. This is probably
because Unglued was supposed to be fun and mass removal
is fun. In case you don't immediately see it, I'm
This is an incredibly fun format. I have a couple of suggestions. First, keep it to four players if you're playing duels. This will make the cards travel the table at a rate closer to what they should. Also, since this is supposed to be fun and single elimination isn't fun but neither is stretching things out for 5 to 6 hours, keeping it to 4 gets you the best of both worlds. It's also more practical since getting people to draft Unglued can be like pulling teeth sometimes. Also, open four packs instead of three if you're playing duels. This will allow you to play with a real deck instead of a pile of cards. If you want to be able to play Get a Life or Checks and Balances, and to make Team Spirit make more sense, you could play a team draft and have the teams play multiplayer games. We suggested this but it got voted down. If you do this, I would also recommend allowing the players to shove their card pools together with their teammate so they would have a better chance of getting a decent deck without opening the fourth pack.
My balogna has a first name./ It's O-S-C-A-R
4 Mystic Penitent
Have you noticed a pattern? When I'm starting into a new format, I tend to look for aggressive decks first. The reasoning is simple. An aggressive deck pays less attention to its opponent than a control deck does, so it's less metagame-dependent. So the control decks have to wait until we see a little more of the expected field. Besides, aside from mono black what good control deck exists in OBC?
The seemingly high number of 1cc creatures is for three reasons: increased numbers increases synergy with Divine Sacrament; increased numbers increases synergy with Battle Screech; it ensures I'll have early creatures to rush a slow deck or a deck that is currently having mana problems.
This deck seems to be quite good at blocking. I assume you're all familiar with the Phantom Nomad + Divine Sacrament trick, but even without it there's a good chance that you'll have nice math on the defense. There's First Strike working for you (Patrol Hound and Valor), in addition to Protection (Glory and Benevolent Bodyguard). Tireless tribe can be hard to kill at times. Granted it's hard to block your opponent's guys when he has a Wonder in the graveyard, until that point you can swing your birdies in while stalling on the ground.
Confessor is a card I bet you weren't expecting. In my opinion it's Odyssey Block's answer to Soul Warden. Obviously you won't be gaining as much life as you did from Soul Warden, but it will still be worth your while.
This deck is surprisingly good, and quite aggressive. It's theoretically possible to attack for 33 on turn 4, but that isn't very likely. Turns 5 and 6 are VERY realistic goals, though, and that should be ok in block for the most part. Goldfishing isn't the only priority here, though. There are more aggressive decks out there, so this needs to be able to beat them. I believe it can. It may not be the best deck in OBC, but it is good and some version of it will be played at a PTQ near you.
The Alternate Format: Characters
Well it didn't take long before my friends and I began creating characters of our own. We always chose a character already existing in the Magic universe, just because it seemed fitting. We tried giving benefits for playing cards clearly related to your character, but the first such attempt was a failed one. We stated that when you played a card with your character's name in the title, you may untap up to two lands and when you play a card with your character's name in the flavor text you may untap a land. The idea here was that since your character is clearly familiar with the spell, it should be easier for them to cast it. The problem came when I chose my favorite character Teferi. First turn Teferi's Isle, untapping itself. Shrieking Drake has a quote from Teferi for its flavor text. Tap Teferi's Isle for UU, play Shrieking Drake untapping Teferi's Isle, leaving U in the mana pool. First turn infinite mana can't be good. Even without that, Ryan had chosen Mishra and we had made the ability fitting-each of his lands could produce an additional 1 colorless when tapped for mana, but the additional mana could only be used to play artifact spells or abilities. There's quite a bit of synergy there. We ended up changing it to gaining life instead of untapping lands.
A somewhat-recent reader suggestion came from Dustin. He thinks that one attribute characters could have (or not, or in multiples, whatever is needed to balance them) is a spell that they could play any one time during the game without paying for the mana. He didn't feel it should be technically labeled a spell, but I feel for logic's sake it should be treated much like a Mirari copy of a spell. It can be countered just like any other spell. So you would have a checklist of sorts on your character sheet, and when you played a particular spell from the sheet you would mark it off. Flavor-wise this would be like a trademark spell that the wizard is so good at they can cast it on whim.
Of course, you don't have to pick characters from the storyline. You could create characters independently, much like you would for a role playing game. You have to be very careful, though. It's very easy to come up with characters that are very unbalanced. Naturally they'll all be quite good, but they have to be balanced with respect to each other. My first attempt at Teferi had his ability giving me extra turns, since he's a timewalker. That can become very overpowered very easily.
A more time-intensive format than most I've suggested, just because of the preparation necessary. Also, it's not really something you can just go up to a stranger and play-you really need a play group to agree on all the rules. Still, it can be quite fun and is definitely worth a try if you've never done anything like this before.
The Answer to the Trivia Question
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