Magic: the Gathering – Ups and Downs

I have a strange relationship with Magic: the Gathering. I love the game to bits, but I don’t like playing quite as much as I like brewing decks. I could spend days or even weeks perfecting a build for my favourite deck – but the same can’t be said for my passion for playing Magic.

I quit collecting in 2007, not playing after Future Sight had made its debut. I started again in 2009 - about two and a half years later. This was when Zendikar had entered the scene. I came back in only to acquire the numerous full art lands. (I’m happy to say I have a very good number of these, and no you can’t have them.) As it turned out, it was a good set to be back in – power crept up a bit for Zendikar block, especially for lands, which if you play Magic, you’ll know are the most ridiculous amounts of money you will ever plop down for a card that needs other cards to work.

Not long after that, I came back to Australia for work. At that point, Scars of Mirrodin had just come out. At this point, you could say I had quit. I wasn’t collecting or playing actively for any reason. It was partly because I couldn’t afford it, and partly because I had lost interest. However, I decided somewhere in April 2011 that I should get back into the same – and did so with New Phyrexia. I went in and won the second draft event I had ever participated in.

At that point, I had settled down enough to afford to play and collect cards again – so I did. Eventually, chewxy invited me to go to Grand Prix Brisbane 2011. I thought this was a fantastic idea, and went off to brew what was blue-white Humans deck with a control frame. (An interesting fact is that pretty much identical decklists showed up a month or two later winning a couple of events, until Dark Ascension showed up.) I ended up not playing, although I went to watch chewxy play. After he had finished playing all his 8 rounds, we went off to get some sukiyaki for dinner.

As it happens, I continued to play a little here and there, and decided that I should play Limited exclusively. I wasn’t too bad at building decks on the fly for a given environment and it would certainly help limit my (notably excessive) spending on singles.

An opportunity to play in a Limited Grand Prix arose at the end of March 2012 – Grand Prix Melbourne 2012. I went to chewxy to said event - and proceeded to lose pretty much every match except my first one, despite having an excellent Zombie deck. I just always happened to have bad hands and bad draws for 3 matches in a row. This wasn’t the reason I chose to quit again, however.

After losing that many matches, I was determined to put in more practice so that I could come back for a better Grand Prix run next time. However, I had to wait until after my examinations before I could justify spending the time playing Magic. In that time, I decided that I wasn’t making a sound decision. There was no way I could play Magic on a decently regular schedule. The local game store only runs Sealed for prereleases, and drafts pretty much close to 10pm on Friday nights.

To be honest, I’m not quitting because it’s inconvenient to play. I’m quitting because it’s beginning to not make any more sense. Of course, I’m sure I’ll be back in about a year or two again. I’m sure I’m never leaving Magic permanently until perhaps I have family. Even then, if Magic is still around, I’m sure there will still be many fun games to be had.

Photos: Event Decks - Into the Breach

Ever since I started playing Magic I've always been fascinated by preconstructed decks - now Wizards of the Coast has a new series of preconstructed decks which are a little more competitive in nature called Event Decks. They cost more - but they also need less extra cards to improve them compared to the Intro Packs that are around now. I thought I'd share a few photos of this awesome set which looks great.

Mirrodin Besieged Event Deck Box

Skin oils are visible on the box - which is responsible for some of the streaking you see.

Rear of the Event Deck deck box

The deck box is cardboard - so it won't last you as long as your Ultra-Pro ones, but it's still pretty darn good.

Open Event Deck deck box.

The product contains the main deck in one pack, the sideboard in another pack, an Into the Breach folded insert, a standard Magic 2011 introduction insert and a cardboard divider so that you can separate your sideboard from your main deck. I'm not sure if the deck box will still fit your deck with proper deck protectors - I believe it'll be a snug fit if your deck protectors are thick ones similar to Ultra PRO ones.

Event Deck contents spread out

Deck Resilience

I’m a player who’s interested in one turn wins. However, recently, I’ve moved my focus to more resilient decks. Decks that win in a single turn usually aren’t very resilient. Take for example, a [card]Mycosynth Golem[/card] deck I used to play.

My slight change allowed the deck the win in one turn – but the deck is easily stopped by something as trivial as a single [card]Essence Scatter[/card]. Unfortunately, awesome one turn wins are easily stopped – so they generally fail at being resilient. Does that mean that I should stop playing them? Absolutely not. There’s nothing quite like going from doing absolutely nothing – to doing absolutely everything.

One of the easiest ways to build a resilient deck strategy is redundancy. Four copies of every card! Multiple functional copies of the same card! Multiple combos! If each of your cards will be a problem, can you imagine drawing into multiples? Having four copies help. Having multiple functional copies = more copies of the same card. Can you imagine how consistent you’ll be at having 3 mana by turn 2 if you played 4 copies each of [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], [card]Arbor Elf[/card] and [card]Llanowar Elves[/card]? Multiple combos makes things even better – they can deal with one combo – only to run into the next one they usually can’t deal with. In addition, your deck becomes unpredictable. You can win one of many ways – but you only need to pull off one. Redundancy has its problems – there are a lot of cards you don’t want to draw too many of.

Another way to be resilient is to be able to deal with the problems other decks give you. This is what a lot of decks do. If you can deal with anything your opponent can throw at you, they’ve then got nothing. If you know that you’re weak against a 20/20 Marit Lage token from [card]Dark Depths[/card], then you should have an answer – be it [card]Path to Exile[/card] or [card]Into the Roil[/card].

You could also just play great cards. Every deck has a finite number of answers. You can always have more problems than solutions for your opponent. If you play a 2/3 on turn one, followed by a 3/4 on turn two, and then you follow with a 4/5 on turn three, and then an [card]Umezawa's Jitte[/card] on turn four, you’re well on your way to winning. To me, the best strategy is simply playing great cards – it’s also the easiest. Continuously playing cards your opponents have to deal with is great.

There can also be another way to have resilience – resistance to removal. If you play a lot of good cards requiring your opponents to have very specific hate cards, you can count on your threats staying on the table a lot longer. An example would be anything with shroud. [card]Calcite Snapper[/card] is good for precisely this reason. Protection is also a bane for a lot of decks: [card]Kor Firewalker[/card] and [card]Great Sable Stag[/card] are both stubborn enough to stay around for a long time. It’s also why something like [card]Progenitus[/card] is so darn difficult to get rid of. There are also other ways to be resilient against removal – a good example would be the ability to recur from the graveyard – [card]Bloodghast[/card] and [card]Stinkweed Imp[/card] are both ridiculously good at this. There are other ways to be dodge solutions – but that would be a story for another day. ([card]Arcbound Ravager[/card] is an example of that.)

Having a good late game plan is also never a bad idea. Many decks have a good early game – but at the cost of their late game plan. Having cards that are equally devastating regardless of when you play it is great – especially if you expect to run into a lot of slower control decks that are full of enough answers. It is for this reason having a deck filled with 12 mana producing creatures is a bad idea – but it’s rarely a bad thing to draw a [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card] or even a simple card like [card]Lightning Bolt[/card].

Why this new obsession over resilience? I don’t really know. That’s just how it is now. I decided that for now, I’d rather play a deck that can win against just about anything, rather than a deck that can win against most things.

Worldwake's Effect on Standard

Looking at PT San Diego's Top 8 decklists is kind of disappointing. It's unfortunately, but it looks like little from Worldwake is changing anything, yet. I'm guessing me thinking people would be able to build, test and optimize new decks was a little optimistic.

All that was really new was an Open the Vaults deck making Top 8. I think. (I'm terribly outdated in this department.)

[deck title=Niels Viaene - Open the Vaults] [lands] 2 Celestial Colonnade 4 Glacial Fortress 4 Island 2 Kabira Crossroads 2 Marsh Flats 3 Plains 1 Swamp 2 Terramorphic Expanse [/lands] [creatures] 4 Architects of Will 4 Filigree Angel 4 Glassdust Hulk 1 Sharuum the Hegemon 4 Sphinx of Lost Truths [/creatures] [others] 3 Courier's Capsule 3 Day of Judgment 2 Fieldmist Borderpost 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 2 Journey to Nowhere 1 Mistvein Borderpost 3 Oblivion Ring 4 Open the Vaults 4 Spreading Seas [/others] [sideboard] 1 Day of Judgment 3 Flashfreeze 2 Hindering Light 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 2 Journey to Nowhere 4 Negate 1 Oblivion Ring 1 Sanguine Bond [/sideboard] [/deck]

I'm not really sure how the deck works, but the idea appears to be to keep the board clear of creatures with [card]Day of Judgment[/card], [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card] while maintaining some card advantage with [card]Courier's Capsule[/card] and [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card].

When you've stabilized, depending on what's in your hand, you swing with one of your big creatures - be it [card]Sharuum the Hegemon[/card], attacking with your [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] or more likely, either a [card]Filigree Angel[/card] or [card]Glassdust Hulk[/card].

Although there are four copies of [card]Sphinx of Lost Truths[/card], I think that the [card]Sphinx of Lost Truths[/card] and [card]Open the Vaults[/card] 'combo' is probably not reliable enough to count on going off often enough (especially since it's really only awesome with [card]Filigree Angel[/card] in your graveyard or [card]Glassdust Hulk[/card] on the table - rather situational to me).

The synergy between [card]Open the Vaults[/card] and a lot of cards in the deck is notable - because you play it late in the game - when most people have exhausted their cards trying to deal with you.

What to do with testing information?

Now that you’ve tested your deck, pre-sideboard, post-sideboard and maybe even against itself (arguably a pretty important match up), what do you do with the information you have? You have to think of changes to make for your deck. Remember that list of key cards you should’ve made? These are the cards you should be looking at keeping – or making better by putting other cards that work well with these cards, like fetchlands for [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] or [card]Esper Charm[/card] for [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card].

Too much of a good thing can be bad. If you have a lot of cards doing the same thing, they could hurt you in a different matchup. If you find yourself losing to a particular deck quite badly – think about why. It could be because you don’t have any flying creatures. It could also be because you don’t have a blocker – these things happen when your deck has too narrow a focus, and only wants to keep trouncing a particular type of deck, rather than the whole range of them.

Sometimes, you might have to trade a whole set of key cards for another, simply to give you a better chance against a particular deck – this could change your deck’s focus, or it might simply streamline your deck’s theme. Be sure to be mindful of this – I did this when I switched from Naya Ramp to Naya Zoo – and while they might share a similar mana base, the deck’s strategy, speed and methods changed entirely. This might not be to your liking.

It’s just as important to like the changes as it is to change your deck. Transforming your deck from simple Unearth + Discard strategy to a pure Unearth combo strategy could easily turn it from mediocre to awesome – but if you don’t like how a pure Unearth combo strategy plays – there’s really no point. The point to playing Magic is to have fun. If you can’t win with it, have fun with it.

There’s really nothing quite as exciting as pulling off that [card]Luminarch Ascension[/card] – over say, simply attacking with small white creatures. It’s rewarding to make your own strategy work rather than use someone else’s tried and tested crazy token deck instead of building your own token producing engine. It’s also fun to watch your opponent’s get a sense of foreboding as your innocuous looking [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card] gets ready to chop his life count via [card]Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle[/card].

Sometimes your deck just doesn’t work out – it doesn’t matter how much testing you do, how much tuning you do – you just keep losing. Don't keep working at it – try a new deck. Sometimes the deck simply doesn't suit your play style, and sometimes it just simply doesn't work. Some decks sound like awesome ideas – but they have some vulnerability only a larger card pool could fix. When rotation came along, the deck may have lost only a few important cards – but sometimes that's enough to take it from the top to being just mediocre.

A note – if you recall, many years ago I talked about why you might want to play 61 cards. However, fetchlands provide many of the advantages of playing 61 cards – while allowing you to play a 60 card deck. Fetchlands easily provide that half-a-land effect needed for that just-right land ratio – they also thin your deck of lands for the latter half of the game – so there’s really no good reason to play 61 cards currently. So don’t. (If you’re poor like me, play Panoramas and [card]Terramorphic Expanse[/card]s – unless your deck absolutely needs to have less comes into play tapped enter the battlefield tapped lands)

The most important thing to learn from testing is how to play your deck. There’s nothing more embarrassing like playing TEPS and not knowing how to pull off the turn 1 win.