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Strategies, Rants, Thoughts & Fun Stuff from Fans.

"Constructing Magic #001: Hello."

December 18, 2007

Hi. I'm Richard, a Magic player. I'm just like you. Well, not exactly. Do you play Magic? If so, then we've got at least something in common. When you play a game of Magic, what are your expectations? If you said "have fun", then way to go! You're having fun playing a great game.

However, there's more to Magic than simply having fun. I picked up the game back in 2002, when Onslaught block had just been released. I was introduced by a few friends and picked up two preconstructed starters: Blue-Black "Bait and Bludgeon", and Blue-White "Celestial Assault". I played in a casual group during lunchtime with my friends, playing against random decks. There were Mono-Red Burn, Goblin Bidding, Psychatog, Mind's Desire, and many others. I simply played "for fun" back then as well. I never really knew or cared about anything in Magic play beyond this. Maybe it was the lack of any knowledge about a tournament system, a lack of funds, lack of a competitive atmosphere, or a combination of all three. I slowly gave up the game after two years, since while I was having fun with the game I was playing the same six people every time and my decks never really progressed and I wasn't learning anything new with the game.

Flash-forward to 2006. I'm in Livermore with two friends and we're walking past a comic store. We walk in, just looking to pass some time. What's the first thing we notice? Magic cards! All three of us had been in that playgroup, and we all quit a while ago. What attracted us to Magic that day? Dissension had come out. Cool. We each bought a preconstructed deck and a few boosters (I bought the Black-Red Rakdos themed deck and ripped open two Demonfires). We started playing again in our playgroup, bringing back all the old players from our group to play with us again. Eventually, we decided to start a small cash tournament. I mean, why not? It would determine who was the "best" player there without having to do some lame multiplayer circle like we usually did.

My friend won the tournament with a Green-White Astral Slide deck, modeled after 2004 World Champion Julien Nuijten's deck. After that day, we started holding more small cash tournaments with different rules: Only cards from recent sets (we would soon learn that this was called Standard), commons and uncommons only (Peasant Magic), and a whole bunch of other rules. Then one night we were down in Berkeley and drove by a store called Games of Berkeley. We went in, and found out that they were starting something called Friday Night Magic in about ten minutes, and if we would like to join. We tried it out, it was a $10 draft (we learned how to draft on the spot). The format was Ravnica block, and we all got beaten pretty badly but ended up walking away with three packs each (from the draft) with some rares that were good for our casual decks. We talked to a few of the players there, and found out that this was a weekly event that happened. We also found out about large-scale tournaments like the Pre-Release tournaments and Regional championships, and even stuff like the Pro Tour. We were interested, but at the time we still lacked cards to play in such events.

Then came the end of May. I went to Fanimecon (I go every year with a group of friends) and found out they were holding a draft there. I joined the draft with one of my friends and we proceeded to win half a box each, since we ended up in tables with good odds. I drafted perfect green-black-red with two Silhana Ledgewalker, Dryad Sophisticate, Streetbreaker Wurm, Moldervine Cloak, Fists of Ironwood, Disembowel, Last Gasp, and a few other bombs. With the packs, we were able to partially build a Green-Red deck that was similar to Gruul Aggro at the time (now known as Red-Green Sadin, after the deck designer Steve Sadin). We skipped Regionals for 2006, since we didn't know enough about the game to try and play. My friend and I ended up dominating our playgroup in terms of skill level. During the Summer, our entire playgroup ended up drafting once or twice a week. Not only were we able to have fun and learn how to draft, but we didn't let the packs we bought go to waste by simply ripping them open. We ended up with almost all the Ravnica dual lands and power cards such as Dark Confidant (Bob), Loxodon Heirarch (Elephant), Glare of Subdual (said in an Indian accent), Burning-Tree Shaman, Simic Sky Swallower, and a bunch of other cards. At the end of the summer year, I left for UC Santa Cruz.

Upon arriving in UCSC, I immediately made friends with a bunch of people who I found out played Magic. I was part of two groups of Magic players, one which just drafted and played casually while the other was a group of PTQ (Pro Tour Qualifier) players. The two groups would occasionally get together to draft every week (I had started a Facebook group for Magic that got about 60 members in its peak) and sometimes the casual players would also get interested and start joining us for PTQs and larger scale tournaments. It was there that I started playing competitively. During the entire summer, my deck choice had been White-Black Ghost Dad, which was a midrange aggro-control deck. The basis of Ghost Dad was to draw lots early with Dark Confidant/Bob while regaining the life loss with Faith's Fetters, then drop a Ghost Council of Orzhova (AKA the Ghost Dad) and abuse its activated ability to regain life while smashing face every turn. My first competitive tournament was with Ghost Dad, which I lost miserably. I didn't have the right manabase (lack of dual lands and painlands) and the deck was easily hated out by Sudden Death (big at the time). I started taking a liking to a Blue-White 'Tron deck, which used the three Urza lands (Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower, AKA the UrzaTron) to generate seven mana when all three were in play to accel into a Triskelavus and use Academy Ruins to recur the win condition. I slowly built up the entire deck, and entered a Magic Scholarship Series tournament in February of 2007 in Los Angeles thanks to the PTQ group I was a part of (hereby known as the Power Rangers, for that's what we actually call ourselves).The Power Rangers helped me piece together some cards I didn't have at the time, including a set of Wrath of Gods courtesy of my friend Otto. I made Top 16, narrowly missing the cut to Top 8.

The second MSS tournament I entered was also with the same Blue-White 'Tron deck, tweaked a little bit to fit the Planar Chaos metagame. I hit another Top 16, while my friend Bryton played his Mono Green Aggro deck to a second-place finish. As it appeared, Bryton had been playing MGA for at least half a year. His consistency with the deck and knowledge of all the matchups he would face with the deck brought him to a second-place (and $500 scholarship) finish. For my third MSS, I went with Mark (who had been at the second one too, but scrubbed out) to Dublin. This time I played a three-color control list that I had built last minute the night before. I lost miserably, scraping a Top 32 finish. I learned that I should have just played the UW Tron deck, since I knew that deck better than some three-color list that I stumbled upon last minute.

The next major tournament I entered (all of this is not counting FNMs and City Champs) was Regionals in June. Obviously not realizing the mistake of playing a bad deck (well, a reasonable deck that was just begging to be hated out that weekend), I chose to play Dredge. Now, if you are familiar with the metagame around June/July, you'll know that Planar Chaos was released back then and Dredge was exploding out the gates. However while Dredge exploded out the gates, the wardens had built another outside it. The deck was hated to death, and I finished in like 150th place or something. Again, another regret for not playing UW Tron.

After that, I was out for the Summer. No Magic for me, had other things to take care of. Not that I quit the game, I was just on vacation elsewhere in the world. So upon returning home, I hit Grand Prix: San Francisco with a UBrw Teachings deck. I liked my build mainly because it maindecked the Pickles package of Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental and also packed a singleton Disintegrate for the kill. No Hellkite, just a Disintegrate. I played in a GPT the night before the Grand Prix, hoping to earn a third-round bye. Did I? No. But I came close.

My three matches were essentially easy, I did not drop a single game. I even ripped a Disintegrate for X = 20 on one of them. Then I played Kenji Blue, and lost in two-straight. Why did I lose? It's not because I had to worst deck or anything. My sideboard tactics were horrible (I'll talk more about sideboarding next article). It's okay though, I won like twelve packs of product which was enough for me to draft with my friends that night at the Santa Cruz diner.

At the Grand Prix, I lost my first round to MGA and my second to Blue-Green. I won the next matchup which was a mirror, the next match against White Weenite, and then proceeded to scrub out. Oh wait, that's right. I forgot to mention that over the course of that night I had totally destroyed my deck because of a teammate's advice. I took out the Disintegrate, Shapeshifters, etc. basically everything that made my deck tick and lost. More about "why you shouldn't play a last-minute list" later)

That night I re-optimized my Teachings deck to be a straight-up Turbo Relic list with Hellkite and the lot for the next day's PTQ. I went Top 32 at that PTQ, earning twelve packs. Oh boy, twelve packs! If only half of them weren't Planar Chaos...

Well, that's a little bit about what I've been doing with Constructed ever since I got into Magic. And you? Feel free to email me your stories at magical *dot* stuff *at* gmail *dot* com


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