12.31.03 Extended and other things ... Force of Will
To say that I have a tendency to take things a bit seriously from time to time could be just a bit of an understatement.
With this idea being placed foremost in your minds, welcome back, folks.
My name is Jonathan Pechon. I have been involved in Magic in some fashion or another since The Dark was available on shelves. Tournament Magic has taken up a significant part of my time for quite a few years now, and Iíve had the opportunity to observe how it all works from a number of different perspectives: semi-casual player, serious player, judge, writer, and an organizer of events ranging from a small scale (my living room) on up.
To give you the idea that I might have some clue as a player, Iíll describe a few of the experiences that Iíve had. The first Pro Tour that I competed in was in New York in 1998, Tempest/Stronghold draft (if I recall correctly). Though Iíve never been able to maintain a highly consistent level of performance at that level, I have made numerous appearances at PTís, with 32nd place at Osaka being my highest finish. Iíve also made the top 8 of two Grand Prixs and 10th at another.
So, that asideÖperhaps it doesnít make me the greatest candidate to give you my opinions on what you ought and ought not do in Magic. It certainly doesnít put me in the league of other player/writers out there, but maybe it does give me a little basis to work with.
I judge events regularly at a store in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, running both constructed and limited events. I havenít thrown my hat in to even try to accomplish reaching a position as a level 2 judge, but Iíve at least begun the process of working to gain experience at the odd Prerelease and such. Right now, Iím still working on being able to better handle the situations that come up in the smaller events. I enjoy the work quite a bit.
This article is going to seem a bit distant from everything, mostly because Iím currently on vacation in New Orleans with my family and have not had consistent access to the tools that I use to keep up with everything (IRC, Magic Online, my team, the store full of other players, etc.). So Iím going to ask for some leniency here as I put together some thoughtsÖstarting with Extended.
In the last year, Extended has been ripped to shreds and rebuilt again, dropping little bits of itself behind as wave after wave of bannings have been implemented. Each new banning has purged a new batch of cards and given birth to a new group of degenerate decks and cards. The hydra that is 1.x is not going to see improvement for a very long time, and, as players, we are going to have to deal with that.
The onset of the problems with Extended came with the removal of what is probably one of the most influential cards in the pool: Force of Will. To steal a quote from Robert Moore, one of our more charismatic DFW players, FoW was the glue that held 1.x together, keeping various combos at bay simply due to its power. Donít get me wrong, Iím not saying that 1.x was fantastic at that point by any means; but once that card was removed from the equation, this foundation crumbled swiftly.
Pre-rotation, we had several viable decks: Donate/Illusions, various reanimation strategies, Miracle-Gro and Super-Gro, mono-red, Rock, Oath, and my personal favorite, Junk. Force only ran in a few of these major archetypes (Oath, Donate and Gro), but did a lot to keep the format together. By acting as a focus-point for early game control (along with Swords to Plowshares, Duress and Therapy), turns 1-3 were fairly safe from broken strategies that could win a game before turn 3-4. While critically bad things could happen, you always had to take into account the fact that players could have an answer right away if you did something on the first couple of turns of a game.
Now? Unless you are playing Rock or a suicide strategy, you could see people doing absolutely ridiculous things on turns 1-2, starting at PT-Houston with the appearance of decks like Angry Hermit and the suicide-style Oath decks. Aluren rose from the ashes to return to prominence as a premiere deck again, able to kill on turn 3. Then came Mirrodin, and the whole thing went straight to pot with the abundance of cards that made Tinker absolutely horrifyingly powerful, and we watched as PT-New Orleans turned into a farce of turn 2 and 3 kills, with Twiddle.dec occasionally managing to throw a smashing to the face in on turn 1.
For a brief time, we moved to an environment in which there was practically no such thing as a midgame or an endgame. The newest round of bannings still havenít given us an absolute answer yet to these problems; the PTQís this coming weekend will give us a few insights into the new environment, but, as is usual, we probably wonít know the real answers until the next Extended PT. For the moment, weíre in a bit of a lull as the deckbuilders furiously go about trying to return to a midgame.
Picture Force of Will as the card that stood between us, as players, and the broken events that have come about in the last 14 months or so. Archetypes would be drastically different simply due to the existence of this one card. The vulnerability of decks to the first few turns of the game would be reduced, if for no other reason than players must respect the existence of a card that can disrupt their early efforts to simply win, rather than build a solid position from which to play from. Picture, if you can, Force of Will not as the ridiculous enabler that is often portrayed as, allowing Donate to go off through a stream of counters, but as the bulwark that kept players from being trampled by a horde of undercosted, overpowered cards (Oath, Tinker, Scepter), cards that have now had to be banned as a result. I think there is a balance there that could be maintained between the three legs that make up early control, combo, and aggression. The leg of early control has been removed, though, both from 1.x (FoW) and from Standard (Counterspell). The addition of Mana Leak and the slower speed of Standard have helped to keep it from becoming a complete collapse, but its absence is still noted.
As a note, I am not proposing that Wizards work to reprint Force of Will in any upcoming sets. Rather, what I am doing is lamenting the loss of a card that, while reviled for so long by so many players, performed a task that was not easily noticed until it wasnít being done. The results have been seen in a series of patchwork solutions to problems that keep arising, bannings that provide quick fixes but do incredible harm to players in terms of confidence and appreciation of the game. The first few weeks of PTQís here in Texas have seen absolutely abysmal attendance, with reports that players simply view the pre-banning format as a joke. Without firm numbers at hand, I would suspect that these circumstances are very similar for groups around the country, perhaps the world.
There have been additional solutions to problems such as these. The most difficult ones to accomplish have been time and patience, two things that are never in extensive supply when it has come to working with games. Personally, Iím looking to the next set rotations as the sign that Wizards of the Coast has formulated a solid strategy for 1.x, giving us an environment that can be tested extensively online (through Magic Online) and the exclusion of sets that have caused headaches in competitive play (Tempest and Urza blocks).
Well, that was something for a first article (again). Iím hoping that Iíll have something a little more thought out for next week. In the meantime, you can email me at PojoPechon@hotmail.com with any questions that you might have. Everyone enjoy the New Year!
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