All posts by Rob Jelf

Rob was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV where he fell in love with Magic: The Gathering thanks to some buddies and some pocket money in 1997. Access to cards and players waxed and waned over the years, but the love of the game burned on. Fast-forward to Toledo, OH and a fierce return to the game ten years later with Lorwyn. Rob is a Johnny/Spike, and a Philosophy grad leaving him constantly analyzing, reinventing and theorizing about the game, digging for the next awesome combo, obscure synergies, and game insight that will help propel him further along the winning path.

What We Should Expect from Scars of Mirrodin

We just recently had the last set in the Zendikar block come down the line and the Standard environment is starting to shift about to fit some of the epic Eldrazi and their associated mechanics and cards into winning and promising decks. So, I want to look at what the Scars of Mirrodin block will likely hold for us and what Zendikar block cards we should be excited about playing in the Zendikar-Scars Standard environment.

Some of you may feel that we are too far out from the Scars release to begin serious speculation as to what the block’s contents will be, but let me explain why I am taking on this task and the unprecedented support we have in this venture compared to other block speculations in the past.

Much like a couple of the people I follow over on Twitter, namely Kelly Reid of Quiet Specualation (@kellyreid) and John Medina of MTGMetagame Blog and the recent Pack-to-Power project at Mananation (@mtgmetagame), I believe in trading for value. It is partly due to necessity as our beloved Magic is not the cheapest pursuit to be enamored with, and because the trading is also like a game in itself, a place to practice salesmanship, bartering, and test your wits and savvy against others.

Part of the way I play the trading game is to get a slight edge in trades and get a huge edge in speculative growth. This is a strategy that I’ve read Kelly Reid talking about before, and many people participate in speculative purchasing when a new set is about to drop to ensure they get in on cards before a price spike, real or perceived. The biggest key to speculative trading or buying is to put together knowledge and make tentative conclusions about the future. Scars of Mirrodin gives us a special quantity and quality of fore-knowledge about what cards we can expect and what cards we should be making sure we acquire before any fluctuations in demand price them out of our grip.

Thanks to the below points of knowledge, I feel pretty secure talking about which cards to keep an eye on and what to look for as we get closer to the release of Scars of Mirrodin.

Rotation Situation

WotC likes to maintain certain staples in one form or another, as shown with the Onslaught fetches rotating out of Extended coinciding with the Zendikar fetches rotating into the format. We can expect similar rotational repeats to occur in this exchange. Certain staple cards of importance to the formats’ health will reoccur, possibly directly but more likely in an indirect approximation.

We can expect to see cards that will fill the roles of Engineered Explosives, Chalice of the Void, and Chrome Mox. Personally, I suspect that they will take yet another crack at the Lotus, attempting to create yet another variation of it that will be attractive but balanced, likely as the replacement for Chrome Mox.

Inter-block Synergies

Remember Vampire Nocturnus, the quirky mono-colored Vampire Lord who had barely any vampires to lord over at the time he dipped into the very multi-colored card pool? If you had the foresight to grab them for $2-$4 when they were first being cracked, just a couple months later you could have off-loaded them at the peak price of around $45 each. That’s quite a return. How about Knight of the Reliquary, which suddenly became super-relevant with the introduction of Zendikar Fetches and Spell-lands? I intend to feel out the next Nocturnus or Knight of the Reliquary while it is still in its larva ‘Junk Rare’ status.

Déjà vu

We’ve been to Mirrodin before, and we know what we saw the last time we were there. Last time we were visiting Mirrodin we had the following themes and these are my thoughts on their chances to return or matter, and which cards to grab or watch for with that in mind:

Modular

Modular isn’t likely to return in any meaningful way as the unintended consequences of moving +1/+1 counters around in mass with any artifact or creature sacrifice outlet can lead to much confusion, hilarity and terror. Cool concept, but abuse potential is too high.

Equipment

Equipment is going to be amazing, and there is plenty of support for this using the Inter-block Synergy premise. Look at Armament Master, Stoneforge Mystic, Kor Duelist, and Kitesail Apprentice. Mirrodin was the birthplace of the Equipment subtype in Magic history and would be a perfect place to explore new design space. Stoneforge Mystic and Armament Master might prove to be undervalued at current prices if juicy and innovative Equipment comes out of the Mirrodin Armories.

Artifacts matter/Affinity

Affinity is dead. There is too much danger in how easily it can and was abused to even touch it again. If something even looking like affinity drops. You can expect a massive chorus of people singing ‘The End is Nigh’ and also players just leaving due to having ‘been there, done that’ before. It should go without saying, but the Artifact lands will also be only a memory, just like affinity.

Other artifacts matter cards will of course be abundant and they should be. As such, I’d make sure I have some of the Zendikar Block Artifacts set aside just incase they should prove integral to one archetype or another. Khalni Gem, Eldrazi Monument, Eternity Vessel, and even Seer’s Sundial have use or abuse potential if made a little better by also adding to your ‘Artifacts Matter’ counts.

We also have a couple cards that already care about Artifacts in Thada Adel, Acquisitor, and Lodestone Golem. With Pilgrim’s Eye and Everflowing Chalice helping your mana develop and giant colorless game finishing creatures abounding, Scars may provide enough support for an Artifact/Colorless Control Deck to form and for an anti-artifact control deck to challenge it for superiority. With very strict counterspells being the norm lately, Annul might see print again, making a deck featuring Thada more attractive to battle the artifact hordes for diehard Blue players.

Charge Counters

There are five cards in Zendikar block that reference charge counters and three are considered junk Rares, Angelheart Vial, Sphinx-Bone Wand, and Surrakar Spellblade, one is a junk Mythic, Eternity Vessel, and the last one is Everflowing Chalice, a utility colorless mana acceleration card that could be broken in half if you can manipulate charge counters. Mirrodin had a few ways to play with charge counters on the various artifacts and this seemingly innocuously named class of counter could provide a subtle inter-block window to doing some very disturbing things in Standard. If you can somehow add counters to an established Eternity Vessel or Everflowing Chalice, you can begin an unexpected climb to recovery or victory where you would have otherwise been dead. Surrakar actually may have the most potential however as he generates charge counters that may be moved about and his own ability is pretty great as it is now with cards like Distortion Strike.

Sunburst

This one I’m on the fence about. Sunburst cared about how many different colors of mana you paid to cast something. After all of the multicolored pains of the past two years with Shadowmoor and Alara, this may be one thing they let fall aside to make room for something less colorful. There are also no cards at the moment that really would make this exciting to see, so put on the spot I’ll say this isn’t going to come back.

Imprint

This is dead. As much as Chrome Mox rocks, players want to cast their spells, not discard them from the game attached to something else. WotC has been particularly attentive to want players want to do lately rather than rewarding them for doing the counter-intuitive. I might expect something that seems reminiscent of Imprint in that you may reveal a card, use a card already removed, or use cards in your graveyard to apply some trait to the artifact in question, but they are going to let you keep the cards in your hand until you’ve used them or your opponent takes them away.

Indestructibility

This could become a theme that will make combat and various strategies more complex but also make playing the cards and killing them more rewarding. With the Edict effects on cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir and Consuming Vapors, the door is open to introduce indestructible permanents that can still be answered. Consequentially, Consuming Vapors may see a corresponding rise in price if playable indestructibles are spoiled. I’d also pay closer attention to ways to neutralize things without destroying them, such as Oblivion Ring and Path to Exile like cards that may show up in M11.

Entwine

We like modality and this seems ripe for a review and expansion just like Kicker received. We saw  Entwine in Mirrodin the first time around and I hope to see it again with a new twist, but I’m cautiously optimistic here. The reason for caution is that kicker had been gone for a single Extended Rotation before it returned, leaving a year that the Extended format had no kicks. We may see a similar period for Entwine when Mirrodin rotates out, but I hope not because it seems like just the type of flexibility we would want upon losing all of the multicolored support and options.

In either case, there are very few cards that I can think of off hand that could benefit value-wise from such a comeback. In fact, the only one is Pyromancer Ascension, and then only if the right kind of options show up on the cards. Perhaps a few of the Rebound cards can get together with some Entwine cards and make Johnny happy with a little Pyromancer’s combo deck.

Colorlessness

Ok, so this wasn’t really a theme, but you have to admit that Mirrodin’s colorless Artifacts and the Eldrazi seem to be made for each other. WotC also seems to be dropping a hint to this extent and some possible reprints in the issuing of Cloudpost, the massively colorless mana producing Locus, as the May FNM promo. The price of the Eldrazi titans and all the colorless spells could see a significant bump up if Locus reappears in either Cloudpost or an associated form. Another thing that might have a similar effect is if a good colorless manabase can be formed up out of Quicksands, Tetonic Edges, Eldrazi lands, and colorless man lands like Dread Statuary or new iterations of Blinkmoth Nexus or a Mutavault-esque land.  Finally, also be on the look out for  a reappearance of Urza-tron in M11 either exactly or a series of role sharing similar lands. People want to cast Eldrazi titans and WotC wants people to want and do just that, so they’ll be sending enablers down the pipe.

So there you have it. By analyzing WotC’s trends and past, as well as player’s behaviors and desires, we can make some predictions on what cards that are currently floating about our environment that may become suddenly much more relevant once Scars starts getting spoiled. In five months you’ll be able to look back to this article and thank me for convincing you to grab a couple extra Lodestone Golems and Consuming Vapors now, while they were obtainable.

Agree? Disagree? Predictions I missed? Say so in the comments section below, or catch me on Twitter @RobJelf!

Reconciling the Limits of Play and Flavors of Power

As players of this great game, we pay cost and make choices based on cards that contain ways to modify the rules and state of the game so we can advance our plan to win the game. As Planeswalkers, we are casting magic and spells of all magnitude to survive and vanquish our opponents. I’m going to talk through some thoughts I’ve had on flavor and attempt to craft a flavorful view that will incorporate some of the rules and ideas that often float around in our game play.

There are plenty of articles and thoughts about how Planeswalkers use land and draw on mana, so I’m not going to talk much about that. It suffices to say that Planeswalkers make bonds with lands with which they are familiar and can draw the power of those lands to aid in their spellcraft. In general, an open field is an open field, regardless of the Plane you are on, but there are occasionally aspects of some lands that have secondary effects. How Khalni Garden comes with a Plant creature and how Academy Ruins lets you salvage artifacts are questions that I believe are answered by drawing a parallel between these special lands and the way I imagine spells work, in that they are events and unique patterns .

We see cards in Magic’s history that give us a strong starting point for considering the intended way for us to think about the flavor of spells and casting. Those cards that affect our or our opponent’s unplayed cards and hands often refer to the mental domain. Memory Sluice, Thoughtseize, Ancestral Recall, Mind Spring, ect. From this, we can assume that the spells are things that Planeswalkers hold in their mind, and that they come from memory. The first point seems to be a given, but the second point is interesting for the flavor of our spells and how Planeswalkers must acquire and use these spells.

The various spell types we have to consider are Instants and Sorceries, which can be grouped together for our purposes, Enchantments, Artifacts, and Creatures. Now, I do not include Planeswalkers on this list because they do not function the same as these other spell types flavorfully nor literally. I’ll address them a bit below. For now, let’s begin with the permanents.

Stepping into the mental shoes of a Planeswalker, when we are on a plane we are surrounded by matter. Real, tangible, exigent things with which we can interact. These things have an on-going nature, persisting over time, even if the nature of the thing makes that time short, they have a duration of existence. We can look at, touch, and smell the goblin, old books, and aura of magic sitting in the room with us.

Now, I believe that it is through the Planeswalkers memory that spells are ‘drawn,’ and as such, the best way to learn how to put such spells into memory is through examination. In this case, we can examine the goblin, taking in its form, behavior, and capabilities. This would not be enough however. We can remember details about the goblin when we are on another plane, but that will not suffice if we have a beast bearing down on us. What we need to do as we examine the goblin, is examine the flow of mana that comprises his existence.

I believe Planeswalkers are creatures of magic. They can literally see the threads and flows of mana that make up a creature or thing. If they study and internalize the memory of a creature and its make up, they can use mana in another place to create that creature again from their memory. Now, this is at odds with the idea of summoning a creature, but I think it fits much better when you consider applying this theory to other permanents, sorceries, and instants. Instead of yanking a Raging Goblin across the Blind Eternities to us, we are remembering what makes a Raging Goblin in way of the organization and shape of his mana, and forming the mana we have to give that memory and mana life. We are essentially cloning him using his mana DNA.

This same thing applies to artifacts and enchantments. A Planeswalker finds something useful and while they might be able to pocket an artifact, they can also just create the thing once they understand it in the place where it is required.

If we understand the spellcraft of permanents as replicating naturally occurring mana patterns that a Planeswalker encounters, then this also can lend us a hand in understanding the spellcraft of Sorceries and Instants. Sorceries and Instants, in the game, have a variety of different flavors to them but they tend to always be events and occurrences.

Disaster Radius, for example, has the flavor to me of either a massive attack from one of the Eldrazi Legends, or perhaps the fall out from one such as Emrakul falling under the force of an attack. The art, the effect and the cost all give me these as possible flavors for the card. As such, I can imagine that the Planeswalker who watches such an event could, in the moment or in the replay of memory, remember and study the activity of the mana that flowed around the event. As such, when faced with a swarm of beasts coming for him, he can shape and direct the mana, channel the memory of a powerful creature that he has the pattern at the ready to create a replay of the original event.

Now, understanding how spells work, I want to talk about a flavorizing of the deck, card limits, and the Legend rule.

If the world around the Planeswalker is one of mana patterns, we could quite easily fill amind with hundreds of patterns, spells, some of which would be great and some of which would not be the most efficient and effective use of effort. Such is true for the game, as we have thousands of cards available, hundreds in a smaller format like Standard, and not all of them are good in practical use. A Planeswalker however can control their preparation for action, pruning down thoughts and actions that would be less useful and readying themselves for those that are more likely to aid them in combat. A Planeswalker is a mental and magical martial artists, and they can hone their readied memories much the same as a Grand Master can select stances and styles to fit the opponent and environment at hand.

This gives us a flavorful way to understand the need to create concise decks using few powerful and efficient cards as a general rule. If the Planeswalker needs a Goblin, but cannot get all of the irrelevant events he’s seen out of his head, he likely not last very long. Another aspect of deck building is the four copy limit, which will touch on another flavorful concept.

We can include up to four copies of any one card into our decks, but this does not mean the Planeswalker must examine four Raging Goblins specifically to have a full preparation of them in his mind. Rather, I view each copy of a card as increased reliance and mastery of the memory of that mana pattern. A Planeswalker who has deeply studied a Knight of the Reliquary is the one most capable to bring that memory to life. This is reflected in our increased ability to draw the card when running four copies. Of course, there is only so much mastery that can be accomplished, and when understanding and reliance are at their fullest nothing more can be achieved.

This explains why we are limited to four copies, save the pocket cases of the Relentless Rats and Limited where you can have more. These exceptions can be explained first as a nature of the mana pattern of the rats and their tendency to swarm, and for Limited, in a fledgling environment where resources are scarce, the Planeswalker is sometimes forced to rely heavily on what he has managed to grasp, bending the rule of a typical orderly mind with the desperateness of making do in tough situations.

Now, as for the cases of the Legendary, we can understand that the point of legendary-ness is that it expresses uniqueness. There may have been dozens of Boggart Ram-gang running around Shadowmoor, all of them having the same typical pattern of mana. However, there was only one Wort, the Raidmother, and her abilities on the plane where unique to her alone. There was a special quirk in her pattern that expressed her uniqueness. While her having a pattern that the Planeswalker can study allows him to reconstruct her from mana and memory on a far removed plane, that specificness in the pattern keeps another Wort from being able to exist there too. In fact, if two Worts attempt to exist in the same place at once, the quirk, the uniqueness of both patterns unravels and takes the rest of the pattern with it.

Planeswalker cards pose a unique flavor translation issue, but I believe that what they represent is an alliance and a contract to enforce that alliance. Planeswalkers are too complex and unique, due to the spark, to be simple spells. Their mana pattern cannot just be recreated. Instead, we can conceptualize the Planeswalkers as having met and agreeing to a contractual calling for assistance. The spell that is cast is the call that gets sent across the Blind Eternities informing the Planeswalker that his obligation is being called upon. The Planeswalker is capable of transversing the Blind Eternities, so we can actually read this as a summoning of a single very unique creature.

The Planeswalker rule is just a little bit different from the Legend rule conceptually and functionally. The Planeswalker can be called to fulfill the role agreed based on the call that went out, thus having Ajani Vengant, the Warrior Mage, and Ajani Goldmane, the Soldierly General. He is the same person, but his roles are different. As such, the uniqueness applies to both forms. This matters because if he has a contract called by someone else who is involved in hostilities, he must leave the battle, as he becomes incapable of fulfilling both roles for both allies at once.

Finally, the only thing left to consider is the graveyard. Here the discarded and used thoughts go. I do have a hard time conceptualizing the graveyard in a flavorful way for anything other than played and subsequently destroyed creatures. I suppose that it is more a record of what has passed, as I know I have used it that way before in playing when I need to check my record keeping. Most of the memories that have been remembered, served their purpose and subsequently forgotten as the Planeswalker turns his attention to the next matter.

I’ll be honest in saying I struggle to add the Graveyard element to our flavorful exercise. Perhaps there are some Vorthos friends out there whom have given this some more thought and could help me out? Give me your thoughts in the comments! I’d love to hear other imaginings of what the Planeswalker’s experience must be and how we can reconcile that with our experiences.

What Ways are there to Win at Magic?

The goal of the game of Magic is obviously to win, right? But there are many ways to accomplish this goal. First and foremost is to make the opponent lose the game, because if you are the last one standing, you win. If there is only one player remaining, that player wins the game. This is important because most games end by causing your opponent to lose the game by reducing their life total to zero. The rules of the game tell us that unless an effect in play would prevent you from losing, if your life total is zero (or less) when state-based effects are checked, that is right before any player would receive priority, you are eliminated from the game.  Of course, this isn’t the only way a player can be eliminated from the game. The rules also tell us that if a player would be required to draw but cannot do so due to having zero cards in their library, they are eliminated. So what can we learn from this?

In both instances the game looks for the status of a vital resource in the game. When one of these resources, your life or your library, are exhausted you are out. Life total is your vitality and you must protect it from dipping under one. You can use and abuse it up till that point, and with the right application of effects, possibly beyond that point, but once the state in the rules is achieved, you lack the vitality to respond to the game. You can see it as being dead, being knocked unconscious, or whatever you like, but you are no longer a factor in the game. The case for being milled out seems a little more clear on this point. If you cannot draw any further spells to respond to the opponent’s actions and advance your own agenda, you are no longer a reasonable factor in the game, and the game removes you.

So, when you can’t respond anymore, and cannot advance your own agenda, you lose. This makes sense, but of course there are many ways of creating this situation for your opponent making it so that they’ve lost the game before the game actually kicks them out and declares you the winner. Let’s look at some strategies that do this as an overview of a type of ‘alternate’ win conditions that often crop up.

You can’t play the cards if you don’t get a turn. This may be the most obvious lockout, but if you are chaining together as many extra turns as you like, your opponent is dead in the water, unable to manipulate the gamestate beyond what few instant speed cards or abilities he has and what mana he has open. He simply waits for you to achieve one of the game ending states.

You can’t play the cards if you don’t have any mana. This is the goal of land disruption and destruction decks. If you need BRG to cast Sprouting Thrinax, and all you have is URG, thanks to Spreading Seas on your only source of B, you are locked out of that card. If you have none of the mana to cast the cards in your deck, either because they are the wrong colors thanks to your opponent or they keep getting sent to the graveyard or removed from game, you just sit with a full hand as your opponent kills you. You lose.

You can’t play the cards that leave your hand before you can play them. If you took your favorite deck and pulled out all the cards other than a handful of cheap instants, could you win a game by playing those cards one at a time? Most likely not, and that is why instant speed discard is a rare and powerful thing. With enough powerful discard, you can keep someone in topdeck mode. If you have instant speed discard, you can force them to play the card immediately after drawing it or lose it. Last I checked, unless you have great things on board already, you are not likely to win a game where nothing can ever come out of your hand.

You can’t play the cards if you can’t untap or are kept from casting. There has been and continues to be a plague that creeps through our beloved game on occasion. The ‘Lock’ type decks aim to ensure that you either never get to untap permanents, keeping you from having mana or other tap abilities to use, or they ensure that you are constantly under constraints that prevent you from casting. Of course, as we can see from above, if you can no longer interact with the gamestate, you’ve loss the game and are simply waiting for the game to declare your opponent the winner.

Due to the defacto state of win that the above deck archetypes can create, it is important to always look for ways to achieve one of these states when evaluating new cards and working to innovate a new strategy when deck building, Each strategy has a different weak point to exploit and a critical period in which to exploit it. Land destruction, for instance, must come online reliably on your turn three, because after that, too much is done buy three and four casting cost spells and too many lands are in play to stop most opponents plans. Discard should also come online as soon as possible, but is much more tolerant to creating a late game lock if there is instant speed discard in the format. In all of these cases, if your opponent can no longer effect the game, they’ve already loss and all you have to do is pluck away at their life or library until the game kicks them out.

Now, one quick note. There is another way of winning the game, and that’s with a rules modifying clause that creates a new winning condition other than being the last man standing. Mayael’s Aria, Helix Pinnacle, and Rise of the Eldrazi’s Near Death Experience are all ways of creating a change to the rules to declare yourself a winner. However, there is no inherent removal of your opponent in this strategy, so you opponent can actively attempt to keep you from succeeding up until the final moment. This separates these strategies from those above.

So, next time you are looking for a strategy outside of just attacking with many big guys, you can consider some of these winning game states and see if you can lock your opponent out of the game. Also, if you sit down across from one of these strategies, understand that they are trying to stop you from interacting with the game, and while annoying that is one of the most powerful ways to win as it is implied right in the rules: make your opponent irrelevant.

How Joining Twitter Will Improve Your Magic Game

As Lauren Lee (@Mulldrifting) said recently in her article over at Mananation (@Mananation), there are two ways of improving your Magic playing skills. You can practice playing, or you can learn by parsing related knowledge and information from others. Her article focuses on how to parse the information and why you should do so. I will show you one valuable channel for locating that information and how to get considerable mileage out of it. That information channel is the Magic community on Twitter.

Twitter is a hot social media tool that should be grabbing your attention as a Magic player. If you seek innovation in deck building, Twitter has it. If you seek to read articles before anyone else, Twitter has them. If you want to have access to the thoughts of the Magic Community’s best and brightest, you need to get on Twitter.

The Twitter Magic community is very diverse and you will find all manner of personalities and perspectives amongst them. Wizards of the Coast employees, Pro Tour Champions, deck building innovators, PTQ grinders, community content producers, site managers, and folks interested in every niche format in a long running continuous chat about the game we all love. At the end of this article and throughout I will list some of the folks I follow and why you should follow them as well. The username for a Twitter account is denoted with ‘@’ followed by the username, and each will link to that user’s timeline. First, an overview of how Twitter works from a Magic player’s perspective.

Twitter is really a tool of discovery for the Magic player. Part of the point behind Twitter is that in revealing small quips about what is on one’s mind, those around that one will learn new things about the one and start discussion about things that may never have come up otherwise. In the Magic community, each person you’ll want to follow will usually have magic on the mind more often than anything else.  This is one of the reasons it is so good at spreading spoilers, new decks and deck tech, articles, and announcements from the Magic community. Yes, occasionally Mike Flores (@fivewithflores) and Conley Woods(@Conley81) or Brian David-Marshall (@Top8Games) will have a debate over the merits of a particular basketball team’s performance, and occasionally someone will mention that their pancakes didn’t turn out very well this morning, but these types of things come up in the conversation of a crowded game store as well, so if you aren’t particularly interested, just glaze over it to the next Magic related topic.

Twitter serves as a kind of news aggregate for the Magic community, as many magic related websites post links to their articles in tweets and many players at various levels will report any interesting developments at the various tournaments that they attend. Professional oriented sites and various entities from WotC also post Twitter updates direct from the floor of major tournaments, providing you with the benefits of boots on the ground without driving or flying to wherever the hotspot is at the moment.

Managing your Twitter account is a fairly simple affair as you can use your Twitter homepage quite directly and easily. If you are more tech savvy and on the go, you can use on of any number of mobile applications to keep tabs from SMS text to the more popular TweetDeck. I have a iGoogle homepage customized with a Twitter gadget built into it, and use Echofon on my Ipod Touch. My point is that it is easy to use both simply and with multiple access points and features.

Now that we have the overview out of the way, let’s get down to specifics. First, if you like spoiler season, Twitter is a delight because not only will you have WotC employees like Mark Rosewater (@maro254), Kenneth Nagle (@NorrYtt), Mike Turian (@mturian) Tom LaPille (@tomlapille) and Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron) dropping hints and spoiling cards at any given moment, and not only because all the spoiler tracking sites and bloggers will post any new spoilers they come across, but also because you can get instant evaluations from players at all different levels of play. In fact, not only do these various players give feedback on new cards, rotated or new formats and new sets in their entirety, but also on new tech as it comes up.

What this means is that when something is on the bleeding edge of Magic tech, you’ll be amongst the first to know about it. To give an example, I was following Pro Tour Austin on Twitter when Evan Erwin (@misterorange) mentioned that he was witnessing a breakout performance by a deck running the new card, at the time, Punishing Fire. Quickly a discussion broke out on Twitter evaluating this new tech that seemed to come out of nowhere. That’s when Kelly Reid (@kellyreid) of Quiet Speculation made the call to ‘Buy Grove of the Burnwillows‘. After a quick analysis of his logic and the situation, I followed his advice. Within an hour or two a Grove of the Burnwillows could not be found for less than five dollars, and within a day after Brian Kibler (@bmkibler) won Pro Tour Austin, the price for Groves had reached strange new heights. I had my playset, which I did not have previously, and sold two additional playsets I had ordered on Ebay for twenty-four dollars each. That’s a three-fold increase over the under two dollars a card price I bought them for, and I had the latest tech to play with myself.

These sorts of things happen on occasion, thanks to floor reports via twitter from the various Pros and content providers who work Magic’s big tournaments. What happens more often is that you will have good players discussing new decks and strategies, WotC policies, and Tournament experiences. You will also be amongst the first to know when a new article is posted on an number of reputable and popular sites like Power9pro (@power9pro), Mananation, Star City Games (@starcitygames), Channel Fireball (@ChannelFireball), The Starkington Post (@Starkpo), and many of the excellent independent Magic community bloggers like AffinityforIslands (@AffinityForBlue), MTG Color Pie (@mtgcolorpie), and Gathering Magic (@GatheringMagic), amongst others mentioned above.

Think you are ready for some Twitter information flow? Here is a listing of some interesting folks I follow, and I’ll break them down into groups for you so you can get started. (If you aren’t listed here and I follow you, I’m sorry but there is a need to limit the lists.)This will by no means be exhaustive, and I suggest looking for your local players as well once you are comfortable. If you don’t find them, get them to read this article and see what they are missing.

Wizards of the Coasts Employees and Official Support

Mark Rosewater (@maro254)

Kenneth Nagle (@NorrYtt)

Mike Turian (@mturian)

Tom LaPille (@tomlapille)

Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron)

Elaine Chase (@ElaineChase)

Magic Pro Tour Floor Reports (@MagicProTour)

Daily MTG Web Team (@DailyMTG)

DCI Judges (@DCIJudges)

Pro Tour Players

Brian Kibler (@bmkibler)

Conley Woods (@Conley81)

Patrick Chapin (@thepchapin)

Adam Styborski (@the_stybs)

Luis Scott-Vargas (@LuisScottVargas)

Zvi Mowshowitz (@TheZvi)

Sites and Bloggers

Power9Pro (@power9pro)

Star City Games (@starcitygames)

Mananation (@Mananation)

Channel Fireball (@ChannelFireball)

MTG Salvation (@mtgsalvation)

Bill Stark, The Starkington Post (@Starkpo)

Evan Erwin, The Magic Show (@misterorange)

MTG Color Pie (@mtgcolorpie)

Lauren  Lee, Mananation, Quiet Speculation, Mulldrifting (@Mulldrifting)

Kelly Reid, The Dragon’s Den, Mananation, Quiet Speculation (@kellyreid)

Johnathan Medina, MTG Metagame (@mtgmetagame)

Russell Tassicker, Gwafa’s Bazaar (@rtassicker)

Neale Wrongwaygoback (@wrongwaygoback)

EDH Central (@edhcentral)

Podcasts, Article Aggregates, Video coverage

MTGFeeds, Article Aggregate (@MTGFeeds)

MTGBattlefield, Article Aggregate (@MtgBattlefield)

Alex, Deck Construct Podcast (@DeckConstruct)

Yo! MTG Taps!, Podcast (@YoMTGTaps)

DrawGo Radio, Podcast (@drawgoradio)

MTGRadio, Podcast (@mtgradio)

MTGCast, Podcast Aggregate (@mtgcast)

Good Games Live, Live Event Coverage (@GGSLive)

Interesting Community Personalities

Rivnix Izzet, Goblin Planeswalker (@Rivnix)

Don Wiggins (@TheSundry)

Alaric Stein (@PlatypusJedi)

David Campano (@dcampa93)

Riki Hayashi, DCI Judge (@Riskypedia)

Dr. Jeebus, formerly of MTGSalvation forums fame (@dr_jeebus)

Chris McNutt (@Fatecreatr)

Jonathan Richmond, The Thieving Magpie guy (@norbert88)

Rob Davis (@ArtosKincaid)

Dylan Lerch (@dtlerch)

Greg Haenig, Urzassedatives of MTG Salvation’s Rumor Mill (@uselessend)

As you can see just by the size of this brief list that the Magic community on Twitter is alive and thriving, just waiting for you to join and gain the benefits of all the knowledge and discussion that it generates and shares. And as always, you can follow me as well, @RobJelf. If you join up to Twitter after reading this, send me a tweet and let me know.

P.S. Here is a link to a Twitter list with all the account above in one timeline.

What happened with Legacy and the Reserved List?

Death of a Legacy

WotC has finally taken action on the Reserved List, bowing to immense pressure from the gaming community that subsist on and support their product; the following concession was made after the voices of thousands cried out for the ending of the archaic contract that soon promised to keep Legacy from being playable by all interested parties: The Final Word.

It seems that the final word on the issue, handed down from upon high by an Executive somewhere, likely with a nodding Legal staff behind him, was essentially a single word.

No.

If you haven’t looked at the links yet, the official word is that there are a handful of reprints using the previous ‘premium loophole’ that will come out this year, 2010, but that beyond that there will never be another reprinting of the cards other than oversized promo materials.

A Murder Mystery

I have been speculating on the situation above and I could make some reasonable guesses as to the events that lead to this. Let me start out by saying that Legacy will not die overnight. This is not a decapitation. This is Phthisis. Let’s have a mental exercise to see possibly whodunit.

Hypothetically, the format is currently being supported in part by WotC, and also in major part, by a substantial secondary market card store (SMC). WotC is only getting marketing value out of supporting Legacy, selling very few cards from recent sets to support the players. The SMC, being the biggest name in the market, benefits greatly from card resale traffic. As the format grows in popularity, the margin on each card grows with demand. This is especially true for powerful cards that are needed in a vast number of decks and are also on the Reserved List. The Dual Lands are the best example, followed closely by cards like Mox Diamond and Lions Eye Diamond.

(Disclaimer: I will state now that while it was suggested that I go to law school, I haven’t, so lawyers and law students feel free to jump in and correct erroneous assumptions or support/guide my suspicions.)

Means

Wotc’s Reserved List, I suspect, could be seen as some type of legal guarantee of value in the investment medium of the game components listed upon it. By ‘promising’ in an open publicly known and promoted policy, WotC may have opened themselves to the Reserved List acting as some sort of contract. This would also open them up to possible lawsuits if someone with significant interests and resources would stand to lose from unfavorable changes in this policy.

A SMC could launch a suit do to the increased buzz of activity and discussion around negating the Reserved List, either defacto through the ‘premium loophole’ or in whole by obliterating it. Such a suit, if it holds merit or if it would prove very costly, would pressure WotC into an out of court settlement, changing the policy, reaffirming it, possibly even paying losses, all the while the employees of both WotC and the SMC being bound by a non-disclosure agreement which requires them to refrain from discussing the reasoning, implementation, and fall out from such an action.

Motive

If WotC negates the Reserved List and prints a new bevy of limited circulation cards, the demand for the cards vital to this format will drop. Subsequently sales traffic and margins will also drop, denting the SMC’s bottom line. Meanwhile, this would be healthy to WotC and the MTG community playing as more players would gain access and WotC would be able to sell the reprint product fresh off the printers.

Opportunity

If WotC, seeking to test the waters regarding a possible elimination of the Reserved List, began talking about it in public forums, such as their company website, and gave an interested party reason to believe that they would suffer major capital losses, such a party could begin to monitor the situation closely, and perhaps even send representatives to meet and discuss the issue. They could then use the information gathered to launch a suit, and perhaps even an injunction, against WotC citing imminent and unrecoverable business losses.

Means, motive and opportunity aside, the bit players and key figures in each company and the community might not have even known what all was going on until it came to a head in some series of hush-hush legal meetings. Perhaps all figurehead parties would love to have gone ahead with the elimination, but those behind the scenes with their fingers on the purse strings might have moved to interfere. We will not know for certain due to the shield of the law. This means that we are left to only our own reasoning and speculation. I have nothing against the hypothetical SMC described above, but without explanations, this is what makes the most logical sense to me.

What this all means is that the Legacy format will likely continue for a time to climb in demand and prices until such a time that only the wealthiest players can afford to play, and the format will slowly fade into obscurity as prices will only ever creep upwards due to cards leaving circulation in any number of ways.

Eternally yours, Unrequited

Sadly, I was slowly attempting to pull together a Legacy legal deck as I really wanted to play in the only GP within a reasonable distance from my particular location on the globe, GP Columbus, OH. With the prices of Legacy required cards sky rocketing, I cannot afford to buy-in to the format at a latter time. With the prices as high as they are, I cannot afford to buy-in now thanks to the Economic Recession. Now that I know prices have no hope of coming down while also maintaining a healthy format, I feel no desire to invest into the format.

I am a player of Standard and Limited as they are the easiest formats to enter competitively. I would play Extended if the format had support in my area as I’m not in a position to go fifty to one hundred miles out of town each weekend to play in a PTQ. Vintage, proxied tourneys aside, is priced at such a level as I would only consider it if I won the lottery or some other windfall. Legacy was a shining hope for playing with old good cards and making a run of it competitively.

Legacy now has fallen into the same compartment as Vintage. Indeed, I almost see no reason in separating them anymore as both serve the same elite level of players: the wealthy and well-connected. I will miss this opportunity lost, but WotC doesn’t love me back, and so I must look now to the future.

Classic Revolution

We, the players, will have to pick ourselves up, dust our cards off, and begin anew. The Reserved List has not been added to since Urza’s Destiny and will not be added to ever again, in theory. I then propose that we push the emergence of an Eternal format that may be eternally renewed without the barriers of some arcane seal barring the cards from reaching our hands.

Classic is a format in which all cards older than Mercadian Masques are banned. All sets from Mercadian Masques on into the foreseeable future will be legal, reasonable broken card bannings not withstanding. This format will enable both WotC and the MTG community to do a few important things.

  • Have a stable, ever expanding format in which new discoveries will be possible with each new set.
  • Create, for however brief a time, a new game-wide meta-game and format structure to explore and develop.
  • Ensure that if a card begins to rise to meteoric heights that WotC always has the option to reprint it. This also applies to cards dropping out of circulation and the hands of players for whatever reason.
  • Retain cards that rotate out of Extended and other rotating formats and continue to play them in a widely accepted and non-elitist format.

These things represent an Eternal format that is healthy and not impossible to enter for those who are students, work for a living, have a family, or have not been playing since the dawn of the game. Yes, I am aware that there are plenty of people in the game that have traded-up, won, or otherwise acquired the best cards in the game, but a fine minority should not rule the majority. Besides, I don’t believe that having Classic, a format with the above listed qualities, would hurt the game in any manner and provides only upside for both WotC and her customers.

Why and what do we name Magic decks?

If you have ever been to a decently large constructed Magic tournament, where you have to register your deck, you have been asked the question in no uncertain terms.

What's in a name? That which we call Jund by any other name would play as sweet.
What's in a name? That which we call Jund by any other name would play as sweet.

It’s right there. For some this is a trivial question, as someone has told them what to write there, but for others, deck builders, it is a momentous occasion. The line can read more like “If you should attain glory on this fine day, what would be the name of the weapon you have forged and wielded to your victory?” Besides, the act of naming is a fairly infrequent event in most people’s lives. The typical individual will name nothing more than their pets, children, and a few paltry academic papers. If you are an artist or author by profession or hobby, then perhaps you have more opportunity to name, but there are so few whom would have such a privilege and responsibility. Most of the time, things already have names by the time we become aware of them.

Deck builders have the above experiences with their vast and varied brews regularly. The decks are simultaneously like pets, children, and theses. The deck builder is artists, scientist, and author. There is a responsibility to name a deck well, as if you or your trusting compatriots do well in a significant tourney, the world will want to know, “What was that person playing?” They will want to know what configuration of cards are in your deck list, sure, but the first thing they look for is the name. By what do you call the deck, and what gives it such a name? To answer this, let’s look first at what functions a name can serve and also some names that already typify those particular functions.

The first function of a name is brevity. Imagine how painful the descriptions and dialogue of the MTG community would be if every time  a match was described it begins with “Well, he had four Putrid Leech, four Bloodbraid Elf, four Sprouting Thrinax, four…” eventually reaching a ‘versus’ and beginning all over again with another long list. What would be a twenty minute verbal description of what two deck met in a round can be brought down to merely a second. “The Semi-final is ‘Jund‘ versus ‘Boss Naya‘”. This isn’t as accurate as listing all the cards, but is a whole lot more practical.

Secondly, a name must be in some way relatable to the deck that typifies it, but this can be done many ways. The most important factor is that it is adopted for use by the Magic Community. If someone creates a deck and names it “Train Wreck”, but no one ever cares to know what that means, what cards are in it, or to call it by such a name when referring to the deck, then it doesn’t really get named “Train Wreck”. Maybe it is named “UBR Discard” instead because that became the name the group decided to call it. If I say “SphinxFire”, nobody will know that I’m referring to UWR Control, which I built essentially over a month before LSV popularized his build by performing well at a major event.

Some of the ways that we describe a deck using a name can vary. Sometimes we can simply refer to the colors of mana most used, sometimes using naming conventions WotC has given us as a shortcut. If the word ‘Naya’ appears in a deck, we know it plays Red, Green, and White, as those are the colors of mana associated with that shard in the Shards of Alara setting. Likewise, the word ‘Boros’ tells us that a deck uses Red and White. These naming conventions have caught on due to deck archetypes that have been played repeatedly using these colors and the associated strategies. However, color combination names don’t always work. Green and White dominated decks aren’t called Selesnya because not only does it sound like the name of a Russian rock band, but also because it is a mouthful and no Green and White decks featured prominently during the time period that this would have popularized.

Another naming option is to use a namesake, such as the deck’s creator. We have seen this recently with ‘Boss Naya’, which contains the color word to give you a basic description of the deck, but also contains the nickname of the decks creator, Tom “The Boss” Ross to tell you that this is his variant. This type of convention was also used in the name ‘Rubin Zoo’. This type of name allows people to find fairly specific deck lists for an archetype that may have many variants.

Perhaps you would rather just describe what the deck does or how it wins games. Names like ‘UW Control’, ‘Mono-Red Burn’ and ‘GW Aggro’ describe quiet acutely the color of the deck and the basic strategy.  Sometimes though, a deck will have an important interaction that the deck revolves around, using the key cards as namesakes, and describing what the deck does at the same time. ‘Dark Depths/Thopter’ and ‘Hypergenesis’ are examples of this type of naming, though this can be extended to mechanics that are key as well, such as ‘Affinity’ and ‘Dredge’. The point is to tell you in the name what the deck is going to try to accomplish.

My favorite is when a deck has an off-the-wall name that you actually think about for a moment to see how it relates to the list of cards to which it is associated. ‘The Hulk Gets Crabs’ and ‘Ruel Gets Crabs‘ are two recent and humorous examples. Assuming you know things like Ruel refers to Ranger of Eos, the deck tells you that card A gets card B and that’s a really good thing, and due to creative play on the names of the cards, you have a humorous and memorable name to boot.

There is occasionally a deck name that will be essentially useless if it wasn’t for the fact that it is tightly associated to the deck list, because the name is like a person’s name, essentially a pseudo-unique and undescriptive tag or identifier. ‘KarstenBot BabyKiller’, for example, has no meaning to me, other than that it is related to a certain configuration of cards.

I, personally, give my deck names some thought when I become happy with a brew and deem it worthy of naming. I also keep a mental note of things that I think should be deck names simply for awesomeness and am occasionally inspired to try and make a deck worthy of the name I have thought up. After reading about Rise of the Eldrazi’s monsters, I’ve got one particular deck I’m hoping to create and name in a particularly witty way, but for now I will keep the name to myself, so as not to spoil the fun of a finished product.

I know that this did not offer a solution to what naming convention should be used in naming a deck, but I hope that I have laid out the issue for discussion and look forward to revisiting the issue based on some feedback from my readers. Should we collapse these diverse naming practices into a stricter and subsequently more efficient nomenclature, or should we be free to name our creations however we like, provided everyone can know what we are talking about? Let’s hash-it out in the comments below and on Twitter. Hit me up @RobJelf.

How to Quest for the Goblin Lord in Standard.

Decks can sometimes come from the most off-handed and reckless thoughts or actions. It seems a fitting occurrence that such impulsiveness would get Goblins into my bag for a trip to our local store’s new “Playtest Tuesday” event. The plan was to have players gather at the store for a couple hours of building, trading, talk, and testing, followed by a brief casual three round swiss tournament. Part of the idea is to try out deck ideas that you maybe wouldn’t want to trot out at FNM, but still want to give a good shake.

My Tuesday afternoon was to be busy and as I’m about to head out the door I looked at all the halfway torn apart decks and my FNM deck and decided this simply would not do. Needing to get out the door, I quickly put together in my head the not-yet-complete Legacy Goblins deck that I’ve been piecing together and a seemingly random Uncommon out of Worldwake: Quest for the Goblin Lord, which I remember being last pick in a recent draft.

Goblins are a competitive consideration for Legacy, made occasional showings in Lorwyn-era Standard, and briefly blipped on the radar shortly after M10 was released. Decks built around the tribe can put out impressive damage very quickly; there was a new card to play with, and I had a core set of cards to pull from already set aside and aching to be played. Besides, the night was to be ideas and semi-casual competition, right?

With around ten minutes of searching and sleeving, I cobbled together the following decklist, although I will admit a certain amount of shame at the poor sideboard that I just slapped together:


I arrived at the store just before the tourney, and I didn’t really get any time for small talk or discussion of the deck. I quickly asked around for my missing Quests, as I only had that single draft reject when I built the deck, and the folks there were plenty happy to be rid of them.

With only three rounds, the night was due to go quickly, but I was excited to try out my contraption against some of the decks I saw there. My matches went Jund, Boss Naya, and ended on UW Chapin. I ask forgiveness as in my haste and the casual nature of the night, I lack detailed notes on each game, and that’s not really the point of this article anyhow, but I will recall briefly what I can.

Jund seemed to suffer from being Jund against the massively fast amounts of damage Goblins could dish out, being slow on mana, and only getting guys down on turn two and three allowed me to quickly roll them. Getting Quest online and dropping Chieftans into play as early as turn 3 didn’t hurt either and Jund stumbling on mana just laid down and died.

Boss Naya, other than the name giving flashbacks to my console gaming days, gave me figurative fits. I quickly applied ludicrous amounts of pressure game one, but quickly came under the hammer, quite literally, as a resolved Behemoth Sledge began to eat my guys and bring the Naya player from burn range to victory in short order. This is where I became grateful for one quick consideration I did make during my speed-building session: Tuktuk Scrapper in the SB.

This little Goblin Ally comes in with a handy Shatter that will handle a Sledge or Basilisk Collar and ping the owner of such implements while he’s at it. My only regret is not having at least one more SB. Thanks to the Scrapper, I take game two. Surprisingly, and thanks to game one’s Naya come back from the brink, game three ends with a draw due to a frantic race in turns with Naya only one (missing) top decked Lightning Bolt away from death.

UW Chapin is a frustrating and strange deck to sit across from. Game one, again I get a high-powered Warren Instigator in before there is anything the opponent can do, and I roll them like a ball downhill. Game two, and for this I kick myself, I fail to consider that the opponent might side in Kor Firewalkers, In my defense, I had not seen the UW Chapin list yet, so I was not fully informed, but I slapped a playset of Unstable Footing in just for such a circumstance.

Quickly applying pressure, I bring him down to the single digits when he drops a Firewalker. I mentally roundhouse myself, but also can’t help but smile at what may be one of my new favorite creatures.  Besides, even with him gaining life and having a protected blocker, my goblin swarm can get damage through, and if I resolve an Eldrazi Monument, the game will be mine. I keep him on low life, even with him countering my guys and gaining from it. Of course this means when I have him at two life he drops another Firewalker.  Thanks to Ruinblaster and Edge eating his manlands, the game goes on till he finally drops Iona, Shield of Emeria with only 2 minutes left in the round. We called it a draw.

Good for a cheap pack, I took this deck to play against some buddies the next night. My goblin horde has eaten a weak Vampire deck, a UB Ally Combo deck, and in the toughest matchup, they lost to a Bant Shroud deck, courtesy of Deft Duelist.

In discussion of the deck, we have considered a couple of splash opportunities, using either Arid Mesa to enable a Stoneforge Mystic package with Firewalker as a possible extension, or going with Scalding Tarn and a package of cheap and unexpected counterspells like Dispel to help power down things in the control match, or fend off opposing removal.

I’m personally leaning towards the white splash, allowing me to do tricks such as the one suggested by fellow Power 9 Pro team member Dillon Wilson, equipping SGC with a Basilisk Collar. Tentatively, I think the package will look something like this:

Out

In

The sideboard needs some help, but I know that I’m going to be looking for at least one more Ruinblaster and Scrapper, likely more Searing Blaze, and possibly a Path to Exile or two. I want to avoid going too Boros, but the power of the Stoneforge Mystic and Basilisk Collar are undeniable, and having a couple non-goblins allows me to run Assaults without leaving the door open. Another great thing is that the Quest for the Goblin Lord only cares about goblins as they enter the battlefield. Once it is online, it’ll gladly give everyone a +2/+0 boost.

Now, I’ll open up another thought or two for feedback which you can leave in the comments below. Should Voracious Dragon take the place of Eldrazi Monument? Should we look at Glory of Warfare instead of the Quest?

I’ve had a lot of fun with this randomly thrown together, Quest-inspired deck and look forward to working on it and making it as strong as possible. Is there a chance that WotC is throwing us a bone here and that the tribal deck that maybe poised to kick Jund off its throne is not Vampires, but rather Goblins? Packing synergy, speed, and power, I really think the little red guys have a decent chance.

Rob J.
P.S. Follow me on Twitter @RobJelf

Why The Internet Will Always Build a Better Deck.

This is my first article written for the MTG community, and I’m pleased to be writing for the awesome folks at Power 9 Pro. Today I’m going to talk about net decks and using the power of community to create a better deck, but first I’m going to say a word about what you can expect most often from my articles.

Now, you’ve obviously turned to the internet to research Magic and maybe get some fresh perspectives on the game we all love. I can tell because that is where this post is located and you have chosen to read it. You are seeking to improve your game. For some you simply want to beat Jund, Affinity, or MUD. You may want to know what to do about Blightning, Baneslayer Angel, or Tarmagoyf. I am going to do better than tell you how to make those worries go away. I’m going to strive to develop reasoning and tools that will drive your game, my game, and the game to new levels. I deal in cognitive and practical tools. Please, step into my shop.

What to do? What to do?

A lot of players fresh to the tournament scene or who have gotten slightly more competitive within their casual group become frustrated at so called ‘net decks’. The internet is always going to build a better deck, and you shouldn’t begrudge that, because you can be part of the process and you can reap the benefits. Besides, odds are you already do ‘net deck’, but you’ll see what I mean a little later.

All decks begin with selecting a goal. The obvious goal of the game is to win, but there are a number of ways to do so. Commonly the goal will be to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero, so we will work with this most common objective. Combos aside, an opponent’s life total is usually reduced to zero through attacking with creatures or using direct damage sources.

There are 1,118 cards in standard as of the launch of Worldwake. There will be 1,575 cards in standard with the release of M11 in July. How many do you know? Ok, perhaps that is unfair, so lets say that only 20% of the cards in the environment are constructed playable. That brings the number down to 315 cards. Now, do you know all of them? Maybe you do, but do you remember them all at once? Of course you don’t. We can only remember 5-9 different units of information at any one time, and that is something that you need to think about when you are deck building. You do not, and can not remember all the cards, all the time. You need help.

Help comes in many different forms. Some rouge deck builders sit down and flip back and forth between the cards in their collection, or the cards legal to the format on Gatherer or Magiccards.info, an idea in mind, scribbling down notes. They are helping themselves, extending there mental capacity to deck build by using the images to store the details of the cards and the notes to store the fleeting thoughts they are having about interactions. This is good, but still limited. Let’s find more help.

Our deck builder constructs his deck and takes it over to his Magic playing friend’s house. They sit down and play a couple games and our hero asks his buddy what he thinks. Now here is where things get interesting. The buddy has played games that our hero hasn’t. The buddy has his own criteria on what cards are good and just how good they are, and they aren’t all the same as our hero’s. The buddy suggests a few changes, Our hero likes some, as a good case has been made, and he makes a few adjustments. Here we have doubled up on the brain power and experience involved in the deck’s creation, but we can do better.

Our hero and the buddy go to the card store to play a few game with friends. After each match-up, our hero surrenders his deck for inspection and comment. The deck is interesting to some, doesn’t work well enough according to others. Discussion breaks out and cases are made for more efficient card choices, different variations that can be tried, and the addition of an more obscure card to serve a special purpose in the deck. Our hero couldn’t have come up with all these different opinions by himself. He may be quite smart, but the power of, lets say five, other brains working on the same problem as he is, in addition to the variety in styles, experiences and preferences, dwarfs the effort that he could bring to bear on it.

Our hero, without ever looking at a deck list or browsing a forum has just net decked. In this case, the net was not the internet, but the network of players around him. The MTG community online is doing this same thing, but we are taking advantage of the gifts of technology to bring the raw power and vastly varied experiences of hundreds, if not thousands of minds to bear on the same problems.

Now, I believe the thing that people actually are disturbed by is when a player completely turns their brains off and simply selects the winning-est deck that they can assemble without serious consideration to improving on it or an alternative to it. Honestly, if you are simply a Magic playing computer, running iterated decision trees and card-counting probability algorithms, then this approach is probably fine. If you have been cramming for exams, or working overtime and you just need something to play in a tourney without much thought, I can understand grabbing the latest Red-Deck-Wins list and running with it. However, if you have any creative impulse or opinion about Magic, and if you love this game you must, you will be a part of the network and contribute back to the development of others’ decks.

With the processing power of the human brain at approximately 100 million computer

A network of brain power making awesome!
A network of brain power making awesome!

instructions per second, and hundreds of people playing a game with hundreds of cards, hundreds of rules and millions of possible interactions, I believe that I can make two assertions. The first assertion is that the only way to create a deck and make it an optimal winner is to bring the power of as many human brains as possible to it, using whatever network possible, including the internet. I think that most can agree to that, but my second assertion will probably be a bit more controversial. I believe that there can always be a better deck made than whatever is ‘best’ given enough brain power applied to the problem.