Category Archives: wizards

PTQ Report – Charlestown, MA 6/5/10 – Top 8 w/ UW Control

After I finished 2nd at the 5k at the beginning of May, I must’ve thought I was “the man” to break a promise I made to myself that this standard season I would figure out one deck I wanted to play and stick with it. I ran UW Control at the PTQ the next day and went something like 2-3 drop, losing to a bunch of Jund decks after mostly steamrolling Jund the day before. Annoyed, and wanting to jump on the bandwagon of the Big Deck of the Week, I ran Mythic Conscription the next weekend and gave up abotu 130 points on my total rating just in time for me to lose some byes for Grand Prix DC.

At said Grand Prix, I got back to what I wanted to be doing and sleeved up UW and my list was only a few cards off of the winning list. I started out 2-0 and lost my next three, bowing me out of competition. Remembering the aforementioned promise that I made to myself at the end of Extended Season, I stuck to my guns, changed my sideboard a bit and tossed Sphinx of Jwar Isle back in the Main Deck, gearing up to take on all sorts of creature decks (presumably Jund). What transpired was me starting 5-0, losing to the sole control deck I would play all day, beating another creature deck in Round 7 and drawing into the top 8 as the #3 seed. Not Bad.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to gear my deck towards creatures. Naya, Jund, Mythic and to some degree Next Level Bant were all predominantly creature decks even if NLB had a distinct control aspect to it with hard-to-kill Planeswalkers. Still, I wanted to be ready for creatures, so I wanted at least three Path to Exile and at least three Day of Judgment as the foundation of creature kill. I am in the camp of loving Baneslayer Angel. I know that she is a lightning rod for removal and that people will hold removal in order to kill her, but I’m no pro. Sometimes I need my cards to do some of the work for me and this bitch is a workhorse. She is like Kerri Walsh to Linvala’s Misty May.

Anyway, Let me just show you this list. It’s not super different than what I or anyone else has been running, but if you’re going to browse this TR you might as well have the frame of reference.

Here’s the sideboard I ran:

I stuck the into the roil in there because I love it against control decks, it can be such a blowout. Whether it bouncing a baneslayer blocker, or bouncing your own Oblivion Ring with the trigger on the stack, or bouncing your own Oblivion Ring to legend rule their planeswalker, to bouncing a conscripted creature, I like what the card does. I ran it in the MD in Washington DC because I wanted it as the fourth path/fourth Oblivion ring combo card. Here I kept it in the board but I might just cut it alltogether next time out.

I put in 4 Celestial Purge because Firewalkers just don’t do enough against Jund right now, and while sometimes when playing Jund and facing them down they can be very annoying, but when Sarkhan the Mad flies over them all, it can be pretty useless. 4 Celestial Purge was aweseome for me in 4 rounds against Jund and 1 round against Mono Red. I think it was the smartest call I made all weekend and one of the reasons I top 8′d this PTQ.

Round 1 vs. Joe Canadas playing JUND

I figured this kid had a really loose keep in game 1 because he wasn’t really playing anything the first few turns. I slapped down an Elspeth on turn 4 and then started activating my Collonade and swinging for 7 on Turn 6. A few turns of that ended the game pretty quick.

I was pretty sure this kid was new, but when he announced “sideboarding eight!” in between our match while I was shuffling it was clearly confirmed. I told him not to announce that anymore and then kind of took it too easy on him. I cast Path to Exile on one of his creatures and he passed the turn and I reminded him he can search for a land, allowing him to get a second red mana on the board and almost letting him back into a game I had heavily under control. I still ended up winning but I learned an important lesson in playing down to the level of my competition and it was a mistake to not just give him the tip at the end of the game. Giving beginner players a way to beat you is not the way to grind into the pro tour.

Round 2 vs. Joe Pease – RG Land Destruction

This guy just completely blew me out in game 1 by hitting bloodbraid elf on this turn 4 and 5 and hitting resounding wave every time, bouncing my land and keeping me out of the game. I never got to cast a decent spell though on the final turn if I ripped a land I could’ve cast Day of Judgment and possibly gotten back into the game.

I saw him cascade past several Rolling Terrain so I boarded in my negates and my cancel.

Game 2 on the play he really couldn’t do much. He might’ve gotten some lands killed or spreading seased but I was able to stick Elspeth and Baneslayer and he didn’t have much for that.

Game 3 was the crazy one. He kept me off double white forever and my hand was 3 Baneslayer Angel and 2 Day of Judgment. Finally I was able to start dropping baneslayers and he mind controlled the first, and then the second one. I ripped oblivion ring to take one of them back rather than killing everything with Day of Judgment because time was about to be called. I used elspeth to start bashing in with a 7/7 baneslayer and he let the damage go through. I then pathed his (my) baneslayer and swung in for 12 with baneslayer and colonnade + elspeth ftw on turn 2 of extra time.

Round 3 vs. Luke Bardsley playing JUND

It was Jund with Vengevine and Cunning Sparkmage in the maindeck. I started with 2 wall of omens and he dropped a sparkmage. I went to oblivion ring it and he suicided his sparkmage in response making me lose one of my walls, which sucked. He wasn’t doing much when he’s leading with sparkmages though. He ended up cascading into Putrid Leech in consecutive turns with runner-runner Bloodbraid Elf which I Held off with ELspeth and then cast Day of Judgment to blow him out and get there with a baneslayer angel.

Game 2 he mulled to 4 and cast a turn 4 sarkhan the mad with his lotus cobra that I had no kill spell for. He stabilized quite a bit, mainly because I allowed him to keep his second red source on the table far too long when I had tectonic edge up. This allowed him to cast at least 2 extra spells he wouldn’t have been able to cast. He got me down to 6 but elspeth protecting me enough to cast a mind spring for 5 made it impossible for him to finish me off.

Round 4 vs. Devon O’Donnell playing Mono Red.

I’m buddy’s with Devon through my little bro and I knew he was running mono red, which I was happy about given my sideboard. He started game 1 with double goblin guide which I ripped 5 lands off of, so I could to discard a bunch of stuff I know wouldn’t matter. I had double spreading seas to keep him off early ball lightning and bought myself some time to drop a baneslayer. This is where I think I made a mistake. He had two Kiln Fiend out but clearly had no spells b/c he had been attacking in for 1 each with them. I had a baneslayer out with another in hand. I was at decently low life and while he was at 6 mana, two spreading seas meant he could not go double ball lightning or ball lightning + Hells Thunder. I decided to attack with my Baneslayer angel and drop the second. He dropped smoldering spires, Ball LIghtning and tried to play a Hell’s thunder until I reminded him that he didn’t have the correct mana to, and extended the hand. but I should’ve held up the baneslayer b/c I knew smoldering spires could be coming down and ruining my day.

Im game 2 Devon mulled to 5 and my opener was Wall of omens, celestial purge x2 and 4 land. I let him back into the game somehow by tapping out on turn 3 and he dropped a turn 3 hell’s thunder and again I was tapped out when he ripped the land to bring hells Thunder back. As a result he bolted and then burst lightning w/ kicker’d me and got me to 5, meaning he had an out with unstable footing, but alas it was not to be and he was dead to my double baneslayer beyond that. But still, I should’ve just played slow and allowed myself to pick off his threats with my purges and not ended the game with one still in my hand.

Round 5 vs. Justin Desai playing Lotus Cobra Jund

So Justin Desai is one of my closest friends and we’ve been CCG Partners for almost a full decade now. We’re considered one of the best Decipher SWCCG tandems of all time and are two time world champions in that game. We’ve only faced each other in sanctioned magic games a few times and never in a ptq.

Justin and I both stall out on lands early and are just playing draw go. Eventually he hits a couple of Leeches and Bloodbraid elfs and I get a really huge swing off of a Day of Judgment with Elspeth out. After that Elspeth and Colonnade go the rest of the way.

Game 2 I keep a hand with some spreading seas and 2x Celestial Purge. He plays lotus cobra on turn 2 and ramps into a turn 3 bloodbraid where he hits another cobra. I’m tapped out on account of the spreading seas so I can’t purge his bloodbraid, so I take 5. His next turn he drops a Terramorphic Expanse and casts a Sarkhan the Mad but doesn’t activate it, opting to swing for 7 into my empty board. I respond by Purging his Sarkhan, effectively timewalking him. After that I stabilize with Elspeth and Baneslayer angel and he can’t get much going after the mistake.

Round 6 vs. Bryan Lynch playing UWR Planeswalkers

At this point there were like 4 or 5 X-0′s so I was hoping to avoid Lynch who was pretty much the only UWR at the top of the standings. Of course I have awful luck and did not avoid him. Knowing my deck was more geared for creature decks, I didn’t have a lot of high hopes.

Nor should I have as this match was a massacre. Game 1 he kept me off double white mana all game with Spreading Seas and Ajani Vengeant. Game 2 I boarded out my wall of omens, kept a 2 lander with some spreading seas and some early plays. Lynch comes down with calcite snapper and four turns later I’m dead without having drawn another land.

Round 7 vs. Kyle Machado Playing R/G Weekend Warriors

I again kept a 2 lander against Kyle, never drew a third and got beatdown pretty hard by what seemed to be just a straight RG beatdown deck. I decided to board in 3 of my celestial purge but not all four because of Vengevine and other green based cards I figured I would see. Game 2 was a battle as he hit Goblin ruinblaster after goblin ruinblaster. Luckily I was on the play and slapped an elspeth down first so I was making tokens like it was going out of style. I also had a few wall of omens down. Eventually I drew out of my mana lock, got some baneslayers down and climbed out of range.

Boarding for game 3 I realized that as long as I stuck a baneslayer he really had no answer for it, save Threaten. I kept a pretty slow hand but one with day of judgment and baneslayer angel and 3 basic lands. My first couple of draws were also basic lands so I was able to lay basics on the first 5 turns and stay away from an onslaught of ruinblasters. Luckily for me he stalled on mana for a couple turns and wasn’t able to do much damage while I got to baneslayer mana. This is big time becasue he played the new threaten that makes the guy he steals power +2 and was able to swing be down to 4 life before I was able to get my baneslayer back, swing in and drop another one, keeping myself out of range, but had he not stumbled I would not have been sitting in third and able to draw into the top 8.

Round 8 vs. James P Syed playing Naya

We intentionally drew. I was in third, justin in fourth, so me and justin both make our first IRL PTQ top 8s.

TOP 8 Quarterfinal with Cameron Preston playing Jund.

To make a long story short, I got blightninged 7 times in 2 games and lost 0-2. It was pretty lame considering I had been 6-0 against Jund on the day going into this game. There was a chance I could’ve pulled game 1 out when I had some baneslayers on the way, but I did some math wrong and went to 3 when I thought I’d be at 4 and he had his blightning #3 of the game for me.

In game 2 it was just a total beatdown as he blightninged me all 4 times and never got to play anything that could’ve gotten me back into the game.

So all in all a pretty big bummer. Especially now since this next level bant deck is doing so well that UW control might not be an option anymore. I have another PTQ this weekend in Rhode Island but I’m unsure what I’m going to run.

Justin has been doing really well with Lotus Cobra Jund online and obviously had some success at the PTQ above. He used a similar if not the same list in the online ptq sunday and started 5-1 before losing his next two. I would say you could look for his decklist at the following link, but for some reason his decklist is ommitted, which sucks b/c it’s his first top 8. But you can check out the rest of the top 8 decklists here:

Until next time,

Mike Gemme
bobbysapphire on MTGO

Sleeving Up U/W for Grand Prix D.C.

After my top 2 finish at the Boston 5k a few weeks ago, I was looking good going into the GP with at least one bye and if I played well in any of the PTQs on the following two weekends I could be looking at 2 byes. That didn’t happen.

The day after the 5k I was pretty beat, sleeved up mostly the same 75 from the day before and went 2-2 drop at a PTQ. The following weekend was another PTQ in connecticut and I decided to switch to mythic. Mythic was a bit more complicated than I estimated and while it was capable of those blowout, turn 3 Eldrazi Conscription wins- playing a deck that just turns sideways was not what I was used to in standard and I coughed up a couple wins by simply not attacking in with my lotus cobra, forgoing one exalted trigger and losing with my opponent at 1.

Those kind of things drive me crazy and I am in no mood to play the Conscription deck again after going 0-2 in a PTQ and 2-2 drop in a WPN qualifier (losing to grixis 3 times, which is just a brutal matchup post board when you have to face down 4 lightning bolt, 4 terminate and the rest of the b/r goods and jace, the mind sculptor).

To be quite honest I’m a little torn what to do right now. Jund is certainly back on the rise and a couple of my teammates here in Mass really like it (and I’ve always considered them blue mages). It’s certainly very good as the results don’t lie, and going into the 5k weekend earlier in the month, Jund kind of punched me in the teeth a little, as I thought it was a very favorable matchup for UW Tapout; but really, nothing is favorable enough vs. cascade.

For the first time maybe ever, we’re bringing all 7 members of our squad to the same tournament, so decks are pretty sparse. We can put together two Junds or a Jund and a Naya, but I likely won’t be sleeving up anything green. There is plenty of time to play Jund for me at the online PTQs next month.

So unless I want to sleeve up some devastating summons, and I don’t think I do without having a card to kill baneslayer; I don’t really want to rely on mark of mutiny and a swing FTW to beat any deck with baneslayer angel in it, I’m going to be playing UW TAPOUT.

I’ve made some tweaks, and made some pretty brutal decisions (and I still have a couple more to make I fear), but I’ll talk about the deck a bit and what changes I’ve made and why.

I really liked UW control the weekend that I played it. I always felt like there was something I could do, or that I could draw (plus ways to draw it) that would bail me out of whatever situation I found myself in. I don’t feel like that has really changed. I like cantripping on turn 2 as much as I can. I love oblivion ring and mind spring, and while people can tell me all day that Baneslayer Angel sucks, she doesn’t and she’s a baller, and I love her.

I think that UW is fine vs. most matchups, I don’t think Dauntless Escort is very hard to play around in mythic with the right answers. I think UW can still beat Jund just fine if you gear it to the aggro matchup (and I don’t think wrath effects are nearly as bad as many people think they are vs. the deck). Furthermore, creature decks are all the rage right now with jund, naya and conscription running rampant at regionals and on MTGO.

The biggest issue I’ve stuggled with is how to deal with the creatures. I know a lot of people say to just run Sphinx of Jwar Isle and not baneslayer b/c it just gives opponent’s dead cards, but most jund players are already cutting terminates and just running maelstrom pulse x4. I think that a deck that maindecks a bunch of terminates is rough, don’t get me wrong; but the meta seems to be going the other way. People are now expecting UW tapout to not run baneslayers and the UWR Planeswalker deck doesn’t (Even though they should run them out of the board), and this could be the weekend to re-capitalize on running a full squad of Baneslayers.

So I’ve decided to neglect Sphinx of Jwar Isle despite how “good” (read: unkillable) it is against Jund. If you don’t hit several sphinx of Jwar Isle it’s really hard to actaully beat in against Jund with your 5/5. Which is why I like Baneslayer, even if they have a couple answers to it, you can turn it sideways and not fear that you’re going to die on the swing back.

I’ve upped the Planeswalker count to be a little strong against the aggro decks and put them on difficult decisions. Gideon works best with baneslayer on the table to kill one of their attackers. Elspeth is just a difficult planeswalker to kill. This also presents far more Pulse targets, making my baneslayers a bit better.

I cut an oblivion ring, conceding that creature decks are far more popular than the control decks right now, and a lot better. Instead of just upping a Path to exile however, I decided to toss in an Into the Roil. I like into the roil for a number of reasons. It’s as good as removal vs. Mythic and it’s just a lot better than path against the control matchups. Being able to bounce my own obring to legend rule a planeswalker and reload my removal seems really strong. It’s one more maindecked blue answer to a polymorphed Iona naming white and in plenty of situations itll draw me a card.

I’ve cut a mind spring, because games where I draw 2 in my opening hand were driving me a little nuts and while I know it’s practically a win condition, the cantripping in the rest of the deck will hopefully get me there.

I really loved the 2 negates maindeck when I played it and I don’t want to cut them, they’re only really bad against Conscription and Naya, but they’re great in the mirror and against jund, so I like them in the front 60.

I’ve decided to cut a Day of judgment to add in a martial coup which is a little worse against jund and mythic and to be honest, the one maindeck change I’m likely to make is to go back to three DOJ, one martial coup, I just don’t like making myself worse in the control mirrors, especially since right now I haven’t been able to fit one of the Eldrazi gods into my sideboard.

Speaking of Sideboard:

The only matchup I really don’t like is the Vengevine Naya matchup. I’m not really sure what I want to be doing vs. that post board but I’m going to get some testing in tonight and friday before the GP.

This is geared pretty heavily towards the control matchups, in which I like more negates, another into the roil, the sanctifiers and the Luminarchs. A few weeks ago I thought luminarchs were trash but looking at lists, people are cutting an oblivion ring or two from their 75 and enchantment destruction is almost non-existant. Some people are adopting into the roil, which could be an issue, but with 4 negates I should be able to back it up. I like keeping the sanctifiers for the mirror to deal with luminarchs and obrings still. I think that the firewalkers and the purges will be enough for the jund matchup, combined with leaving DOJ in and bringing in the Mind Control.

Maybe some more testing this weekend will tell me I’m wrong, but I’m hoping the white planeswalkers and arsenal of celestial purge in the board will help swing the Jund matchup a little bit, it’s possible that it’s not enough.

I’m pretty excited about the GP, GP Trials and even a fallback ptq on sunday, and I’m happy to be sleeving up this deck on the real battlefield. I’ll likely switch to Jund talk next week as ONline PTQs start back up and I’ve already traded for my Sarkhan the Mads and Consuming Vapors.

Til next time,

Mike Gemme
Bobbysapphire on MTGO

Taking 2nd Place at the Boston $5K

Last week I discussed my preparation for the big 5k / PTQ weekend in Boston, MA. All week I was pretty certain that I would be sleeving up UW tapout for Saturday but was contemplating some Mythic for Sunday. I also talked about my helping friend and former pro tour-er Blaine Hatab get Kiln Fiend into a winning deck. Well, Blaine and my testing (or lack thereof) worked out as he finished 9th and I came in second losing in the finals to JUND when I couldn’t rip one of 14 outs to take home my first Magic Trophy.

First I’ll start with the list I brought to the tournament Saturday and some discussion of it.

you can see me discuss the list here.

My big insistance in the deck was to run 4 Oblivion rings. I really like the Obring vs. just about every deck out there right now. Even against mono red or R/x, being able to oblivion ring a Kiln fiend is invaluable. I wouldn’t leave all four in postboard vs. red decks, and I’d only cut them all if I didn’t see kiln fiend in games 1 and 2. But Planeswalkers are everywhere right now, and so aren’t baneslayers; Obring is just a good catch all, I even Obring’d a 1/1 Goblin Token vs. polymorph once last weekend.

I also liked 2 path and considered 3 just because of how good mythic is, and how an unchecked baneslayer angel can simply rule the mirror.

Probably the strangest thing about my list is the inclusion of 4 total fetchlands, 2 white and 2 blue. This is for a number of reasons. 1 they make both Jace and Sphinx of Jwar Isle better. Sometimes the sphinx just isnt enough late game and that’s when you have most of your card advantage. Numerous times on the weekend I would end up with a sphinx and some fetches and they would give me the chance to see more cards. Same goes with Jace, I once Jace: brainstormed 3 times in a row and got all lands each time, luckily the third time yielded a fetch so I could mix things up and ended up taking the game down despite not havnig a single threat for a few turns.

My Board was as follows:

Nothing really crazy in here except the 2 Jace Beleren. Those are in there for the control match to vindicate their jace and net me some cards when I can slap em down and get it done. I also ended up bringing them in vs. UR polymorph b/c in game 1 my opponent seemed really reliant on Jace to find his stuff.

This tournament really started off on the wrong foot for me. Out of 228 players I got paired up aganist my best friend Steve Baroni in round 1 and he was playing Open the Vaults / Time Sieve, the one deck that UW has almost no chance of beating.

Steve started with a mull to 4 or 5 and dropped game 1, then proceeded to take game 2 easily. As we began to shuffle up for game 3 Steve wanted to reboard some cards and when he reached for his deckbox it was gone. Someone had taken his box with his postboarded deck and he was missing some important hard to find commons and unless he replaced them would’ve had to scoop from the tournament. As we played game 3 Blaine tried to track some cards down, after coming up with nothing Steve decided to scoop to me and drop from the tournament to do some free drafting.

Then I proceded to drop my second game to the UW mirror after I couldn’t handle my opponent’s baneslayer angels in either of the second or third game.

I was not feeling great at this point, clearly I should’ve been 0-2 drop but with one win I *simply* had to win out…

I ended up beating, in no particular order, UW Tapout x2, Mythic, Jund, Naya SHallies, and White weenie to finish up 7-1 and able to draw with eventual champ Josh Herr into the top 8.

I was pretty nervous for the top 8 simply because I had played so horribly in the 8th round. I faced a good local player I knew and had beaten the last two times we faced (Dustin Taylor – 1859). I played really poorly against Dustin who was in it to win it. He gave me a real run for my money in game 1 after he mulled to 3 and I had a fairly slow start. In game 2 he rolled me on the play and in game 3 I ripped running baneslayer angels to give him no hope of top eighting. Most of my good fortune on Satudray was due to my supreme rips and not having to mull once.

In the top 8 meeting we were discussing splits and Gerard Fabiano was undecided on a split himself. I proposed we each take 500 and put the final 200 in the pot and play a winner-take-all top 8 event. Everyone eventually agreed to this and we were off.

Quarter Finals vs. Jund

I was pretty confident about Jund going into this event and was glad to see it in the first round of the top 8. Now that I had $500 in my pocket the pressure was off and I was able to just do work. If you watch my opponent’s interview he said he felt like he got outjunded this match and mabye that’s true because there weren’t any difficult decisions to be made during these games. It was all about surviving blightnings and casting as many spreading seas as I could to get to my Baneslayer Angels and Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Semifinals vs. UW Tapout.

This is the only match other than mythic that I 2-0′d all day. In game 1 I stuck a Baneslayer Angel on 5 and then he played one on his turn 5. I laid down a jace the mind sculptor and bounced his angel then swang. At this point the lock was on as he could either try and take out my jace or keep dropping his Baneslayer. He dropped the baneslayer again and I didn’t have to play another card the rest of the match because of Negate in my hand and no reason to tap.

In game 2 it was more of the same, I answered his baneslayers but he couldn’t answer my 5/5 fliers. On the game winning turn I had a Sphinx and a Slayer vs. his Slayer. With plenty of Mana I cast mind spring for 4 leaving 3 mana open in hopes of ripping a path or an oblivion ring, the fourth card I drew was an Obring and that was that.

Finals vs. Jund

He takes down game 1 after casting Blightning once from his hand and another off of a cascade. In game 2 I have 7 mana on the turn after he drops Malakir Bloodwitch to a pretty full board facing down my baneslayer angel. I drop a Wall of Omens drawing Mind Control taking his bloodwitch and he scoops us into game 3.

Game 3 was a little nuts as he has the triple Putrid Leech Start after my Spreading Seas suck on the draw. Between all his Putride Leech activations and a swing from my Baneslayer Angel we’re both sitting under 10 life. I have a Colonnade on the board but my only other lands are plains and tectonic edges. I can draw any one of 3 islands, 2 blue fetches, 4 Glacial Fortresses or 3 Wrath of Gods to even this game up. I draw a blank and he’s able to burn me with Siege Gang Comander and have more than enough to swing in for the win and the trophy (though he and I split the final $200).

All in all I was pretty happy with UW tapout. I sleeved it up again on Sunday but it did not perform as well, I had to mulligan a lot and my draws weren’t very optimal and I was out by the sixth round. If I had to sleeve it up again I would definitely include a Gideon Jura in my Maindeck and likely a second martial coup. Martial Coup is really important in the mirror and my opponents having multiples took me down plenty of times over the two day weekend. I think I would cut down to 2 mind spring and try to throw in a Divination. Some potential cuts are 1x Baneslayer Angel, 1x Day of Judgment or an Oblivion Ring. I really like the maindeck negates so I wouldn’t personally cut those but I can see why people would not want them in the big 60.

This weekend I’ve got another PTQ in Hartford Connectictu, I’ll be wearing my bright orange Power9pro tshirt but I’ll likely be sleeving up Mythic Bant. I haven’t decided about which version I’m going to run, I’m leaning towards the Eldrazi Conscription version but with at least 1 Rafiq of the Many to give it more of a threat level if I can’t find my Sovereigns of Lost ALara during a game.

Thanks for reading

Mike Gemme
bobbysapphire on MTGO.

Garruk Wildspeaker Not Included in “the Garruk Wildspeaker Deck” WotC: WTF?

Wizards has announced the decklist of ‘Teeth of the Predator,’ one of their new “Duels of the Planeswalkers” series of pre-constructed, 60-card decks. These decks are a spinoff of their xBox 360 title, Duels of the Planeswalkers. However, in a dumbfounding and likely ill-fated move, none of the decks will actually contain the planeswalkers they are branded with.

The packaging was announced on Monday the 19th of April. Immediately, in comments below this announcement, the dubious trick was highlighted: that while the packages all feature prominently the planeswalkers whose decks these allegedly are, none of the decks actually contain the planeswalkers in question.

Yep, that’s right. Garruk’s deck has exactly zero copies of Garruk Wildspeaker. And yes, that’s a huge picture of Garruk on the cover of the box. Check out the Garruk box:

Don’t be fooled by the phrase “The Garruk Wildspeaker Deck.” This doesn’t mean “deck featuring Garruk Wildspeaker” as we might reasonably presume, but rather something along the lines of “a deck someone like Garruk Wildspeaker might play.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I share the sentiment of Andrade, the first poster on the blog announcing the packaging:

There will be a lot of disappointed people if the decks don’t include a Planeswalker card. If I buy “The Nissa Revane deck” with a huge picture of Nissa on the box then I would expect to find a Nissa in there.

“Disappointed” is a bit of an understatement if you ask me. I’d substitute “pissed.” I, for one, would feel utterly deceived and cheated by this blatant near-false-advertising.

The biggest problem here is that this will inevitably only infuriate n00bs who are just getting into Magic, to whom these products appeal greatly as a way to supplement their nascent collections. Someone who is “in the know” and keeps up with Magic culture is far less likely to blindly buy a product on a whim without knowing the specific contents of that product. In short, experienced players won’t be duped by this crap. But the n00b just sees the picture and buys it. This is speculation, but it seems consistent with purchasing behaviors I’ve observed in an unscientific, personal way over the years.

So, WotC, shame on you for peddling this inferior and deceptive product. I don’t know who made this decision, or what their blood-alcohol level was at the time they made it, but you can bet this lemon of a product will tarnish the brand, and in a just world, those responsible for this trash would be purged from the company.


Kicking Off the Standard Season

Here we go again.

It’s another season here on the PTQC and the grinding begins this weekend at the TCGPlayer 5k in Boston followed by a Sunday Funday PTQ.

Right now, public enemy #1 is UW Tapout; a deck that you can barely damage in the early game and is nigh untouchable in the mid-late game due to the hand sculpting card advantage given to the deck by cantrippers Wall of Omens and Spreading Seas, as well as Divination and Mind Spring, and of course Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Those, along with three-time all-star Oblivion Ring, and hall of famer Wrath of God there just isn’t a whole lot you can do to this deck before they resolve Baneslayer Angel or Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Since I took this gig, I’ve been pushing Jund hard. Play the best deck I always say, and that deck is Jund. Well, unfortunately, it’s not anymore and I’ve been contemplating dumping my Maelstrom Pulses online for a cool 66 tickets though I’m not abandoning the bandwagon just yet. I am however, probably going to sleeve up UW Tapout this weekend at the 5k, so if you’re at the event and you see a better looking guy than you sitting across the table in a bright orange power9pro tshirt, mulligan appropriately.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been trying like hell to brew up something spicy for one of these two events, because I have. I wish I had a better head start on things but life sometimes gets in the way and I was left with just a couple weeks to prepare for “The New Standard” as you see it called around the internets.

When Prophetic Prism was spoiled, old-school Open the Vaults / Time Sieve popped into my head because of its ability to replace elsewhere flask. I got the team involved because my brother had top 8′d an Australian PTQ with the deck last year and got to seeing if we could make it work in Standard where UW is what everyone is trying to do. We put a list together, tried some different things, and like I suspected it ran shop against UW Tapout. I was struggling against Jund a bit, but I wasn’t really comfortable with what hands I should’ve been keeping and what hands I should’ve been shipping. I passed it across the table to my buddy Steve and he immediately was feeling the deck. One of his big hangups has been that he really didn’t like any deck and he wanted to hit the 5k with something spicy and off the radar. And while Open the Vaults with Filligree Angel is certainly a deck right now, it’s possible to lose despite climbing to absurd amounts of life. The Tezzerator concoction simply never passes the turn back because of Time Sieve.

Mike Siever is not very spicy, and this is pretty much just a drummed up old list with some prophetic prisms and a couple extra glassdust hulk, but it gets the job done. We found that the Hulk is pretty much the key to beating jund. They have so much disruption that it’s not exactly feasable to get the Time Sieve loop going, but if you can beat in for a couple turns with the Hulk while ramping and possibly rocking out an Open the Vaults, you simply catch the Jund Player unawares and tapped out and eventually at 0 life. Depending on how Steve does with this bear I might run it on Sunday.

Another buddy of mine fell in love with a new ROE card: Kiln Fiend. We pretty much spent an entire 24 hours discussing and testing decks with this guy trying to make him work. Sometimes he was just broken. If Jund tapped out for a sprouting thrinax on turn 3, he could straight up end the game with Distortion Strike[card], [card]Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning; attack take 15, you’re pretty damn dead. Distortion strike makes him very good but in games you don’t draw the card, or in games that your opponent has like, a lightning bolt, things get ugly quick. We sleeved up just about every 1cc spell for red and blue (what’s up Burst of Speed ) and it was just too flimsy against Jund. There’s a possibility that this guy could be really good in Boros because you have a lot of other creatres to use who are strong and Emerge Unscathed takes the place of Distortion Strike, but outside of lightning bolt, burn spells are so underwhelming in standard that Boros doesn’t seem very well placed.

I’ve given MBC some serious thought this week but haven’t had any time to test it, once ROE comes out online I’ll probably sleeve this up virtually at some point and see how it does b/c I have most every card for it and somehow Abyssal Persecutor is like $10 less than it is IRL

I really like Contaminated Ground, this deck is trying to nickel and dime the opponent, and maybe bash in with an abyssal once or twice. Contaminated Ground goes a long way and works as a removal spell for a turn 1 Celestial Colonnade. I love Ob Nixlis and Sorin Markov and this deck is just filled with good stuff. I think if you’re running Mind Sludge (which you should) then just don’t bother with tactonic edge, but this is definitely an archtype that could embrace the edge with a different approach.

My other option this weekend? Mythic Bant. The deck is pretty narrow, but it can sure as shit steamroll people. I haven’t played any games with it, which is against my motto for this season, but it is tournament one with a new set and I have to start somewhere. It does look like a pretty fun deck. If you haven’t seen the version with Sovereigns of Lost Alara and Edlrazi Conscription, I suggest you check it out because that looks like even more of a blast; “does my Sovereigns of Lost Alara Trigger Resolve? +10/+10 trample, Annihilate 2, thanks for playing” sounds like a fun mantra to repeat on the weekend. I think if anything I’d go with the Thronling version because it owns Jund, but I have to come up with a couple Rafiq of the Many if so because nobody ever seems to have that card.

I’ll let y’all know how things go next week, thanks for letting me air out my thoughts on the format and as always feel free to slam me or give me some better ideas.

Mike Gemme
Bobbysapphire on MTGO

Trying to Grind at Pro Tour San Diego and the New Standard

Attending my first Pro Tour last weekend was a hip-check to my Super Ego. I’ve been to dozens of card conventions and large tournaments, but this is the first time I attended when I wasn’t even invited to the big dance. There was never a VS System Pro Circuit Championship that I wasn’t qualified for. Since 2002 there’s only been one year where I participated in Star Wars CCG Worlds that I didn’t have a bye to the second day. And when Decipher had a Fantasy Lord of the Rings TCG contest for Worlds on their official website I was worth 15 points!

Joking aside, the transition to magic has been oft-fruitless and never had that been so abundantly clear than when I was on the side of the convention hall near the dealers, looking accross at the “pros” duking it out for zeros.

I will say that if you love Magic you should definitely attend a pro tour. 8 man events fire from 9am to 3am. You can play a MTGO Draft for free. Some of the tournaments have insane prizes (xbox, flights to San Juan, Foil uncut sheets of Worldwake), and there’s plenty of room to battle EDH style, trade, or loaf around dishing about the game.

I fancy myself a competitive Magic Player so I didn’t do anything *fun* last weekend other than a 2HG sealed event. I had never played 2HG and my brother and I built our deck pretty suboptimally since we didn’t understand that Pulse Tracker was an inherent powerhouse. We had some fair bombs for regular sealed decks, but 2HG is a much different breed.

My first event was the LCQ. My pool was pretty fair and I thought it would allow me to do some work. It was a RG ally deck with a light black splash for Bojuka Brigand and Nimana Sell-Sword to up the ally count to double digits. Its bread and butter was the Kazuul Warlord and the double Graypelt Hunter. My first heartbreak came in game 3 of round 2 when I passed the turn to my opponent while tapped out with a 2/3 a 2/1 and the warlord untapped. I was at 11 life and he was at 4. My only card in hand was a burst lightning that I could kick next turn. My opponent had 2 counters on Quest for the Grave Lord and a Hagra Crocodile and a Ruthless Cullblade on board. My opponent draws, putting two cards in his hand. He says “Well, he can’t block” and swings in with the croc. I go into the tank: I’ve already drawn out his Groundswell so I’m not super worried about the swing. I’m a little bit concerned about Vampire’s bite, which I haven’t seen but some people board in vs. red. I also know he hasn’t played either of the Bloodhusk Ritualists that he had. I felt that if I blocked and let him put a 5/5 zombie on the field, I’d be hard pressed to get my four damage in if he just drew the ritualist. I decided not to block and the two cards in my opponent’s hand were Harrow and a second Groundswell dealing me exactly 11 damage. I stayed in but I was pretty broken after that. I think I ended up 2-2 or 2-3.

I was however, geared up for Extended and sleeved up Combo Elves the night before I left for San Diego while I caught up on my favorite USA shows White Collar and Psych. I’m big into television so if anyone ever wants to talk tv, comment away; I watch a lot.

I didn’t have the opportunity to test the elves much because of all the standard testing for my friends and roomates on the PT, so when I went into the PTQs with it I ended up 1-3, 2-3; but I learned a lot about the deck and had the chance to chat up Matt Nass during some heated games of Guillotine over the course of the weekend about sideboard plans and I feel a lot better slinging it tomorrow at the local PTQ.

What I really want to get to though, is standard. Since worlds, about everyone on my team other than my brother (turbofog) has been rocking Marijn “I hate the world” Lybaert’s Jund list. After the event he posted up the deck with updates and it looked a little something like this:

We call this list STUND (stock Jund); it’s about the least spicy Jund list ever made. I top 8′d states with it in New Hampshire and it has fared well for my friend and top 100 constructed player on planet Earth Jason Ford; the dude who x-1′d the first day of the Pro Tour with the above list (swap out 2 Rootbound Crag for 2 Raging Ravine) and dealt talk of the town Tom Ross his only constructed loss all weekend.

Like I said, this list isn’t spicy. It doesnt put Siege-Gang in, which is what a lot of Jund decks are doing right now. It doesn’t even consider Rampant Growth or Explore, but instead opts for the board developing Borderland Ranger in the MD (with two more in the board!). Most people who look at Jason’s list and ask me about it question these Borderlands and the Chandra Nalaar most often. A lot of times Chandra just gets there, we even bring her in for the mirror (cutting 4 leeches and 3 Pulse, always – no matter what). Against control decks, she gets there in the face of Wall of Denial, in matchups with creatures she’s recurring removal. Borderland Ranger is a little bit harder to defend, so I’ve asked JFord to give me 100 words on why the borderlander. He gave me doulbe that.

“Borderland Ranger is probably the card that gets the most funny looks, besides maybe the Chandra in the sideboard. Borderland Ranger, despite only being a 1 of, is largely the foundation of the deck. It lets you essentially play 25.5 lands, fixes your mana, fetches a basic against pesky Ruinblaster shenanigans, and even acts as a body – a 2/2 should not be ignored. Some ask why I wouldn’t just play another Ravine in its spot, as manlands largely do much of the same – they let me play a higher land count with much of the same utility of a spell, and they even tap for 2 colors to boot. However, the manlands don’t let you develop as well. Ravine never actually wants to block a Bloodbraid Elf, as it will cost you both a land drop and an entire turn (to keep the mana untapped), on top of doing nothing for your Ruinblaster situation. Furthemore, Borderland lets me cast Garruk, Bloodwitch, and Chandra post board – not something that just one land outside of Savage Lands is helping.

Don’t find yourself falling into the trap of automatically shaving the one Borderland, either when initially building or when sideboarding. It is as much of a core to this build as the 4 Bloodbraids are. ”

That’s all pretty well said without even considering it’s red zone implications. It trades with bloodbraid and is great to block a leech when you’ve got mana up with a bolt backup. He also lets you keep a lot of unkeepable hands as well. Even though I do sometimes get burned by them (more on this later), I’ll keep a two lander with borderland and gas no problem.

Jason ended up 8-2 in the constructed portion and 46th overall at the PT, his second straight top 50 finish and he’ll be riding the train into San Juan later on in the year.

So after my PTQing was done, they had a WPN event on Sunday with a first place prize of a flight and hotel to the next PT in San Juan. I decided to sleeve up STUND (though when I sat down for round 1 I totally forgot that I put my fetches in my elves deck and had to run and snag Jason’s deckbox to avoid DQ). I ended up in the top 8 with a sole loss to white weenie where in G1 I had to mull to 4 with no land and game 2 he just had more threats than I had removal though I likely incorrectly terminated a Conquerer’s Pledge token when my life was starting to get low. I beat Bant Twice, B/R burn, and UW Control.

Some Highlights:

R1 vs. UW Control, dropped game 1 but got there on game 2 with a double bloodwitch hand and game 3 with Chandra’s Ultimate against 3 Wall of Denial.

R3 vs. Bant my opponent could’ve had the draw but decided not to kill my garruk w/ 4 counters and let my lone bloodwitch beat past his two Baneslayers for 7 when I topdecked burn while he was at 8 life.

R5 vs. B/R aggro my opponent. In game 1 my opponent stuck on two lands and all I saw was Goblin Guide and Hellspark Elemental so I think I kept a slower hand in game 2. He went t3 Ball Lightning, T4 Ball Lightning, t5 Elemental Appeal (soaking two of the damage with a borderland!) dropping me to 2 life. He has a lavaclaw reaches out and 1 card in hand so I’m forced to play Bloodbraid Elf and luckily I hit Blightning stripping him of his own Blightning. He activated reaches and traded with the Elf. I cast a Broodmate Dragon on 6 and he played Hell’s Thunder and traded with one. I cast BLightning leaving terminate mana up and stripped him of his searing blaze, swung in to put him to 8 life. He whiffs the next turn and I drop him to 4. He rips elemental appeal but I had the terminate (and a bit blast if he found burn, to try and cascade into my own burn) and I win while playing all but one of my spells with just 2 life against BURN.

In the top 8 I lost to a pro named Ari Lax in the mirror. I kept a 2 land w/ borderland Ranger hand on the play with a bloodbraid and a goblin ruinblaster with Thrinax and Blightning to boot. I didn’t get there and even though first place was flight and a hotel, second place was an uncut foil sheet of worldwake, third and fourth place got a foil set of worldwake. What’d 5-8 get? THREE PACKS. awesome. I ripped my 4th Quest for the Nihil Stone of the weekend in the WWK pack and burned the other two for warmth.

I have a lot more to say about standard, especially the “Boss” Naya that everyone seems to really like. By now everyone knows that Scott-Vargas whent 17-0 and Tom Ross got the Whammy hitting ninth by two % points. Knight of the Reliquary is not a must have card in the standard environment and dealears at the PT were actually sold out of them accross the board. I’m glad I picked some up when Zendikar first hit because now they’re up to $12. I will say that Knight is now an absolute must kill and you really cannot let Bant and Naya untap with a Knight in play or it’s curtains for you and your spells.

The Naya deck is interesting and I hope I get to take it to some FNMs soon. There is certainly concerns about the mana, as I heard all weekend how those of the CFB guys who ran it and didn’t do well were losing to their mana all day. I decided to chat up Jason about it since all we do is dink around on Gmail all day:

Mike: so you dealt tom ross his only loss.. what are your thoughts on his naya and how is that gonna hold up?

JFord: I mean..its kinda tough to say because it was just one match where both games were basically blowouts. It’s funny…the naya decks mana is worse than jund. I almost think it costs you too much to be playing wild nacatl, but if you cut those then ranger does much much less and so on. It’s another intrinsically powerful deck, but im slantted towards jund just cuz im a fanboy. You also gotta kinda question if the sparksmage/collar thing is too cute or whether it is that sick.

Mike: well it seems sick against these decks that are almost all creatures, the bant that sam black played or even in the mirror where you will exhaust their sejeri steppes right quick.

JFord: this is definitely true. But, then you gotta ask where the metagame stands. He did take down 3 other jund maybe im just a sack haha.

Mike: haha, do they bring in the sparkmages against jund?

JFord: no I dont believe so

Mike: the buzz around the convention center was that the guys on that squad that did bad with the naya lost primarily to mana issues so that does say something.

JFord: yea i mean..the mana is pretty poor
like i said…the deck works pretty hard to make nacatl happen
and its it worht it? Maybe.
But if you cut nacatls for better mana then what is your deck doing?
not a whole lot probably.
also not sure why they’re playing scute mob over dragonmaster outcast, but im sure they know.

Mike: i agree on the nacatl thing, but my big question is why not wooly thoctar. like, I dont see the point of the one drop because you’re mana is so iffy, why not take the approach of the bant decks which is to spit out a big monster on t3? Like knight is fine obviously, but when are you playing your ncatl?

JFord: Well… first, the Ranger of Eos engine.
Secondly, which piggybacks on it, is stoneforge mystic.
Basically, more threat density for your equipment.
Your guys dont have to be THAT good if you can play more/ get them down quicker
because the equipment should trump.

Mike: I guess ranger tutoring up two 3/3s dying to be equipped is good.

JFord: Right. And it lets you do cutesy things like scutes and gives more value to your 1 drops
so i guess its kinda’s also pretty good

Mike: looking at this naya list its actually pretty good, I hadnt broken it down.
its got some weak cascades though.

JFord: Its got a lot of em, but it isn’t like jund where you’re depending on them either.

Mike: no

JFord: but yea..bloodbraid in jund =/= bloodbraid in naya
not even close

Mike: I just imagine all those times you hit mana birds or a t4 scute mob youre like, “suck”

JFord: Yea, but if you have a hierarch or two down..hasty wooly thoctar?

Mike: I mean yeah that’s an upside……….

Then we started delving into Chapin’s UW List. Something that has a bunch of us here at kind of fired up. I think a few of us are going to explore that list quite a bit in the upcoming weeks. I know I already have my Jaces, including a German one, which is pretty sweet.

That’s it for this week. Not sure how I feel about throwing a chat into the article but we’ll keep it spicy. Editing that bear took longer than it would’ve taken to summarize the whole sh’bang. Standard definitely seems a lot of fun right now, and I’m looking forward to playing the standard queues on MTGO as well as some FNMs.

But for now, back to the grind of extended and sleeving up combo elves tomorrow morning in Beantown.

Til next time,

Mike Gemme
bobbysapphire on MTGO

Luis Scott-Vargas, Pro Tour Champion and Magic-Strategy Coach

Just this past week, we notified Power 9 Pro customers that we’re launching another series of MtG workshops led by Luis Scott-Vargas. We definitely wanted to keep our blog readers up to date too!

I’m especially excited to have Luis Scott-Vargas on as an instructor/coach with Power 9 Pro. It’s taken a lot of juggling of schedules but we finally figured out all the details just in time for an excellent finish to 2009.

If you don’t know Luis (often endearingly called LSV by the Magic community) from his win at Pro Tour Berlin or numerous top 8′s at multiple GPs and Pro Tour events, you may know him from his “Drafting with LSV” series on YouTube/Channel Fireball. Regardless of how you first heard about LSV, his record is extremely impressive.
His most notable finishes include:

  • 1st – Nationals 2007
  • 1st – GP San Francisco 2007
  • 3rd/4th – GP Philadelphia 2008
  • 1st – Pro Tour Berlin 2008
  • 1st – GP Atlanta 2008
  • 1st – GP Los Angeles 2009
  • 2nd – Pro Tour Kyoto 2009

LSV is a great new addition to the instructor base at Power 9 Pro, where he’ll be able to leverage years of article writing as well as his foray into online video. He’s written content for BlackBoarder and Channel Fireball, conducted interviews with WotC and much more. Power 9 Pro Online Workshops are the next step in LSV’s consistently giving nature that always results in a fostering of the Magic the Gathering community and player base.

There are numerous benefits to the online workshops for players, the most notable of which is summed up by “Learn from the best to be the best.” Truly top-level coaching is hard to come by and here’s your chance to dive deep into relevant discussions on Magic. You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about what cards to include when evaluating your sideboard options–whether prep’ing for an FNM or Grand Prix Trial. LSV himself is excited to share his insights into drafting Zendikar. His perspectives from over 1200 matches (not counting MTGO!) will be leveraged for your benefit. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. The last workshop of 2009 is a “Deck Doctor” format which means you can send in your deck for LSV to make a list of adjustments. See how he would adjust the card base for optimum results for your deck. Talk about an unique experience!

Here’s an example clip from our recent workshop series led by Ben Lundquist.

You can learn more about the workshops at or in another recent blog post.

Further information about Luis Scott-Vargas is located at You can also read some of his latest articles at Channel Fireball where he also does a weekly video-cast called Magic TV. LSV has also written for notable Magic the Gathering strategy sites Black Boarder and Starcity Games, though his writing is exclusively available on Channel Fireball as of early 2009.

FYI, if you sign up for Power 9 Pro’s (very infrequent) newsletter, we’ll send you a mp3 clip with Ben Lundquist discussing the in’s-and-out’s of the Metagame. This single 2 min clip alone will help you make better choices when it comes to what decks to expect at the next tournament and how to track the best decks in a format. We’re happy to provide this as a small sample of what Power 9 Pro aims to accomplish with our workshops.

As always, we want to hear from you. If you have workshop topic requests, thoughts or concerns, feel free to lets us know in the comments. I can also be followed on twitter where I post updates, commentary and discussions with fellow MtG players. :)

Magic Grand Prix 2010 Schedule Announced

Wizard’s has announced the GP lineup for 2010 and I have to say it looks great. Lots of variability–something I felt was missing from this year’s schedule which featured a ton of limited.

Here’s the schedule:

Dates City Country Format Feeds PT
Feb. 13-14 Oakland USA Extended San Juan
Feb. 27-28 Madrid Spain Legacy San Juan
March 13-14 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Standard San Juan
March 20-21 Yokohama Japan Extended San Juan
March 27-28 Brussels Belgium Standard San Juan
April 3-4 Houston USA Extended San Juan
May 8-9 Lyon France “Prosper” Limited Amsterdam
May 22-23 Baltimore USA Standard Amsterdam
June 5-6 Sendai Japan Standard Amsterdam
June 12-13 Manila Philippines Standard Amsterdam
July 31-Aug. 1 Columbus USA Legacy Amsterdam
Aug. 28-29 Gothenburg Sweden M11 Limited PT 2011 #1
Sept. 11-12 Portland USA M11 Limited PT 2011 #1
Oct. 9-10 Sydney Australia “Lights” Limited PT 2011 #1
Oct. 23-24 Toronto Canada “Lights” Limited PT 2011 #1
Oct. 30-31 Bochum Germany “Lights” Limited PT 2011 #1
Nov. 13-14 Nashville USA “Lights” Limited PT 2011 #1
Nov. 27-28 Florence Italy “Lights” Limited PT 2011 #1

And of course we’re all looking for those especially coveted foil cards and the 2010 GPs have a Whopper for us: Umezawas Jitte!!!!

Here’s a look at the actual new art.

So what do you think? Excited? Will we be seeing you at one of these GPs? Which GP are you most excited about attending? On a personal level I’m excited about having a fairly local GP (Oakland).

Why Magic the Gathering is Better Than a Video Game

First off, I am making a bold statement here and by the end of this article it should be clear why that is. As always, would love to hear from each of you in the comments section.

For clarity sake, I am lumping MTGO into Magic the Gathering generally.

In order to understand the framing of this question–that is, the question of Magic’s advantages over video games–it’s important to understand a concept called Creative Destruction. The term was made famous by an early 20th century economist named Joseph Schumpeter. Through creative destruction, the marketplace essentially creates an environment for innovation which ultimately replaces older models and methods of doing things. We see this all the time in modern society. Take the advent of digital cameras replacing rolled-film cameras which had replaced Poloroids–or, more recently, phone-based cameras to some degree competing directly with stand-alone digital cameras. Other easy to understand examples include [pretty much] anything related to the Internet: email nearly replacing “snail mail,” Facebook vs MySpace vs Friendster, CSS vs ‘old school’ HTML, or newspapers migrating in-mass to digital pushes.

The political jargon used by policy makers is simply to site “innovation” as a/the driving force of the market place. For the scope of this discussion, it isn’t necessary to get into an analysis of the implications of creative destruction within society–or where Schumpeter felt capitalism would lead. Rather, we simply need to understand that the process of innovation and creativity as a driving force within the mechanisms that propel us toward improvements can be used as lens for examining the relationship of players to various games.

Let’s first examine Magic the Gathering from the perspective of creative destruction before examining video games. After examining both types of medium and addressing a couple of caveats, we can then move to the implications of creative destruction and the ultimate conclusion that Magic the Gathering is better than a video game. Within the conclusion, I will also address a few concerns or obstacles for the game to be aware of.

Creative Destruction and Magic the Gathering:

As anyone who plays Magic for more than a month knows, a whopping four times a year the development team at Wizards of the Coast releases a fresh set of cards for players. With the release, the card pools for various types of game-play change. This period is lovingly referred to as ‘Format Rotation.’ Cards, and the block-centric mechanics related to those cards, are no longer eligible for constructed tournament-ready decks. Because a metagame is often defined by specific archtypes such as “Mono-Red Burn” or “Affinity” or “Faries,” the loss of cards such as Sulfuric Vortex, Arcbound Ravager or Cryptic Command & Bitterblossom actually represent major shift-points for the game.

In summation, ‘format rotation’ (and ‘block rotation’) is WotC R&D actively entering a process of creative destruction. Archetypes constituting the “metagame” become format-defining. Cards which were format- and archetype-defining, such as those cited above, cause the entire floor of the metagame to fall out from under itself. This process of “falling out” is often seen in technology but it’s very interesting to see it occurring with a “game.” Take chess of example, the game has not changed in thousands of years; it’d be like someone inventing a “Queen on Steroids” or a “New Rook that Jumps Like Checkers”–it’d redefine the method of playing and analyzing chess.

Let’s now shift our focus from Magic the Gathering to video games.

Through physical constraints of software development, video games are hard-coded to function correctly the first and 100th time. In business parlance, finished video games are “weighed down by rules and procedures that discourage innovation.” In fact, that makes complete and absolute sense. You certainly wouldn’t want your video game to randomly decide that after completing level one, you go directly to level 10. That’s considered a bug. The goal with a video game is to create a predictable model for how the user will experience the game.

Games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and EVE Online are interesting counter-examples but let’s keep in mind that the companies are forced to release “expansion sets” but the fundamental base of the game does not change. In fact, after talking with a very-dedicated WoW player, certain areas of the game cannot be accessed with equipment (such as ‘flying mounts’) released in early editions. The base of the game(s) still fall into the pigeonhole I commented on above: “rules and procedures.” These somewhat adaptive games aside, we can clearly see this trend with games such as Zelda, Mario Brothers, Halo, etc. Though for games like Halo there is a certain segment of play allowing for “player vs player” that does lend itself to the sustainability of the game (and so the business models associated with subscriptions), I still take the stance that these games ultimately lose appeal for the vast majority of players–despite the release of “new levels” or “new weapons.”

Looping back to my first point that the goal of a software-based game is to create a predictable model from which players experience the “digital world,” it’s the predictability aspect of the game which ultimately pushes many players away–often to the next “hot game.” I mean, how many times have you replayed a game after beating it? It becomes a “what’s the point” sort of situation. I would even go so far as to describe Player vs Player-centric games to fall into situations of “hot flare up, quick fade.”

In summary of our analysis of video games, the take-away is that they are fundamentally resistant to change. Entrepreneurs take note! –the ability to innovate within this particular constraint, represents the type of creative destruction cited by business/economic thinkers as leading to wealth creation–or wealth transference depending on your perspective.

With the framework of creative destruction used to contrast video games with Magic the Gathering in place, we can move to a few quick, non-verbose conclusions.

1. Magic the Gathering has staying-power

  • Mark Rosewater has commented numerous times, both in his weekly column and on Twitter that he could happily develop and innovate for Magic the Gathering until he dies and never run out of ideas.
  • To return to the economic analogy, Magic the Gathering exposes itself to “market pressures.” The game operates within a framework where the current-hot-must-have-cards become tomorrow’s toilet paper (well, maybe not that extreme). WotC R&D becomes a “creator, operator and trader of assets.”
  • Magic the Gathering follows a pattern of Innovation and Destruction: incremental (new expansions sets…vis a vis Conflux or Alara Reborn versus Shards of Alara), substantial (oops, that card was more broken than we realized: aka Tarmagoyf), and transformational (base sets: Time Spiral, Lorwyn, Shards, Zendikar…).

2. Magic the Gathering is constantly creating an environment where through the process of creatively destroying itself, the construction environment opens up to a new atmosphere of innovation.

  • Just take a recent discussion leading up to Pro Tour Austin as an example. Heck, Ben Lundquist spent about 20 minutes discussing the cycle of a meta-game last week: new sets usher in the aggro deck (Deck-X), leading to a deck designed to beat deck-X (Deck-Y), and then decks designed to play against the “fear of Deck-Y” with decent match ups against Deck-X (Deck-Z). This happens at a minimum of three times a year if you’re only counting the set-releases. Major tournaments such as GPs, $5k’s and PT’s debut new innovations opening up new deck archetypes, effectively setting the tone for the MetaGame. If we look at all the archetypes that popped up within just the last 12 months, the number is significantly higher. Development teams for video games would be extremely hard pressed to keep up with one such ground-breaking environment change.

3. Players come back.

  • I can’t even keep count of how many times I’ve heard the story, “Yeah, I started playing back in Beta, stopped in [insert old expansion] and then restarted in [insert new-ish expansion].” It’s practically cliche. (I for the record have never stopped and know that I never will stop playing). Other than spending a few minutes farting around on an old school Nintendo system, I never ever revisit old games. As I said earlier, there’s no point. I’ll wager there’s a lot of research around this point. To wit, here’s one simple example. Interesting quote from that link: “[One Smarty-pants-Panelist] pointed out that under the age of 20, “anyone who is not a gamer is an aboration.” According to his experiences, they actually move as groups from game to game – often sampling 20 to 30 games a year.” [Emphasis mine].

Some points for WotC to watch out for:

  • Don’t allow profits to run the development cycle. The perpetuity of the game will ultimately rest more on the design team’s ability to adequately address the need to re-constitute itself than it will on any marketing scheme. This is actually a more difficult challenge than at first glance will lead us to believe. Companies–aka management teams–find creativity cumbersome to manage. Creativity requires freedom, something that fundamentally contradicts a company’s/management’s desire to control operating procedures. Management’s responsibility to fulfill this “need for creativity” then becomes a matter of finding the right people–people who are capable of asking the right questions, not providing the right [sounding] answers–because let’s face it, if you ask the right question, sometimes the answers aren’t so great sounding.
  • On that point, let’s not ever ever ever forget that it is the players that drive this community forward. WotC, in this respect, merely needs to continually create the right environment(s) for Magic to be played; little over-sight needed. Pro Tours, MTGO and FNM are great examples of this type of behavior. I’m confident they can keep this up. :)

Last point, some people bemoan the release of new sets (or the new rules which I still hear people whining about). Mostly these arguments come from a reluctance to “dish out the cash” to “keep up.” True, the system does require continual purchases and is expensive. However, that is exactly what keeps the game interesting. It’s just something you have accept and embrace. I’d rather have an interesting, “living” game than a bunch of cardboard I abandoned to the dust-gods because the game became stale.

Spoke with a few friends tonight about this article and one friend in particular (Xavier–who’s also published a few posts here) suggested I include this final thought. If you find this idea interesting and worth pondering, an interesting phenomena worth examining further is why games such as Settlers of Catan has had such great success in maintaining interest from its player base since 1995. Again, I can easily posit that much of the continued enthusiasm stems from the expansions sets such as Seafares of Catan. Again, I see this as a result of the makers manipulating the “expected game experience” which results in prolonged interest (and purchases) from a loyal base of players.

Embracing M10 rule changes

It was 3am and I had just got home and plopped on my bed. I turned on my macbook and began a quick check of gmail and my daily sites. In a sleepy haze I began reading the article on the changes coming in M10 at the wizard’s site. 

Changes sweep through the R&D department like spring cleaning. Aaron Foresythe’s article on these changes was like a tangent about all the imperfections in the game that they had let slide for so long. Mulligans, tokens ownership, Lifelink, Damage on the stack, mana burn; it really was just a long time coming.

The real kicker here is damage on the stack. I personally embrace the direction combat is taking. I had a very long discussion with a great magic player I know who is debating whether or not to quit the game. He told me that the removal of damage on the stack is tearing away the skill of the game. He then brought up Sakura Tribe Elder and Mogg Fanatic, how they are dead and how there are no more tricks. I admit that they got a lot worse, but at the same time, they weren’t filled with skill either. I know people that when they first learned how to do tricks with damage on the stack, they felt like the best players.

Think about Mogg Fanatic for a second, isn’t the play always just “damage on? sac him and ping you/that for 1″. He was just a one trick pony if you really think about it. He was almost never killing the thing he was blocking, but rather assisting some other creature in lethal or just getting in there for some more damage. Killing some random x/1 isn’t what he is known for, but rather being able to block you from taking damage and then hurt the opponent. Has he changed all that much with damage leaving the stack? No. He can still block, prevent you from taking non-trample damage and ping the opponent. 

Lets say there is a 3/1 crashing at you, and you have the Tribe-Elder as a blocker. You have a choice, does he block for lethal or does he slither into your deck and grab a land? The better player only gets better with these rule changes. Until all the creatures have their “correct play” pinned on them, like Mogg Fanatic and Sakura Tribe-Elder.

Creatures like Ravenous Baloth did get considerably worse from this change, but again, the better player will still win through skill, because there is still so much skill necessary to outplay your opponent. It is not losing any at all, but perhaps gaining it for the time being while the rules are still a shock to many copycat players.

The thing about Magic R&D is that they are always right with their decisions. I have yet to be disappointed with their decisions. I remember seeing Planeswalkers for the first time and thinking “What are they doing to this game?”. I think I can honestly say that Planeswalkers are one of the greatest things to happen to Magic. I personally am behind all of R&D’s decisions.

Lets talk about the new dual lands. Comes into play untapped if you control a basic land of the two corresponding types. Again, I was upset at first. The more I thought about it, the more I like them. I foresee the death of 5 color decks, the uprising of mono color decks, and a slower pace of mana fixing after those vivid lands get pushed. Terramorphic Expanse should perhaps get reprinted to help out their dual lands. I hate seeing that vivid land/reflecting pool garbage. “I like Broodmate Dragon but there isn’t really a deck that is good with those colors, or has a slot for it…oh wait, I can run all three colors! I also like Ajani Vengeant, Plumeviel, Putrid Leech, Cryptic Command and Bloodbraid Elf. Lets run them all!” That is just annoying. Anathemancer will soon be gone from view because non-basics will be a thing of the past. I hope. 

M10 will also bring some interesting reprints like Ball Lightning, Lightning Bolt and my personal favorite Duress. The power level of these cards is a clear indicator of where they see their game going.

I will be attending Grand Prix Boston at the beginning of August. I am very excited to be able to use M10 right out of the gates for an endless weekend of booster cracking, hotel charades, and random tournaments into the middle of the morning. I’ll be taking a 4-day weekend off of work for this endeavor.

My fellow team member Zak plays a format called DC10, a format my area knows as Type IV. The other night I had an idea to draft it. I pretty much shuffled a pile of rares and put them into piles of 15. I drafted Progenitus beat-down. 1st pick Progenitus, into second pick Finest Hour kind of sealed the deal for me. I had some really great synergies in my 40 card deck. I am considering making my own pampered Type IV brick of cards. Maybe on my down-time between M10 and Zendikar. Drafting piles of rares is just hilarious. Kind of like my Star Trek party in a couple weeks. I will have my box of M10 by then so lots of drafting will ensue with laughter wrapped in U.S.S Enterprise outfits. James Kirk drafting G/B.

Well, I will be waiting eagerly for M10 spoilers. In the meantime I will ponder over how great Lightning Bolt will be, how over-hyped Ball Lightning will be, how over looked Acidic Slime will be, and how under appreciated the new duals will be.


Rules Changes for Magic: the Gathering — Team Discussion

For this post, I thought I thought it would be interesting if I pooled a number of different perspectives from the Power 9 Pro team. In that sense, we have a virtual round table discussion of the recent rules changes.

I’ll start the discussion.

So, team, we have a new set of rules rolling into place with the release of M10. This set is really starting to create waves; first we were told that the core set would contain a slew of new cards and now we’re getting hit with a series of, in some cases, very drastic changes.
Most notable of which is the elimination of the combat damage & stack. Wizards also eliminated the splitting of damage among various creatures, except so far as Deathtouch is concerned. What do you guys think of these changes?

Right away I can tell you my biggest problem with this whole thing is the elimination of damage stacking. Think of a deck like boat brew that runs 4 mogg fanatics. This deck is instantly much worse. This also goes for utility cards like qasali pridemage and call to heel. The change also limits your strategic options. For example, I could easily see a situation in core set limited where a spined wurm gets team blocked by a pair of giant spiders and a pyroclasm can no longer wipe the board.

Keep in mind, Sean, that during the declare blockers step, you still have the option to play an instance at that moment. This is still considered a step and so there is an exchange of priority. It’s only at the time of “damage step” that players are no longer able to make responses. This definitely lowers the value of cards like Qasali Pridemage, though.

I have been thinking about the rules changes all morning. The way the
“declare blockers” step is set-up right now, I can attack with a 7/7
Cloudthresher and then my opponent declares their blockers. Lets say
they have Wall of Denial, 0/8, and then seven 1/1 insect tokens. If
they block with their entire horde of dudes, putting the Wall of
Denial first in the order, I have to assign 7 damage to the wall. Then
Cloudthresher gets eaten by insects.

Actually, it is the attacker who choses the blocker numbers, so your Thresher will still kill the insects.

Yeah, it’s important to understand that the attacker gets to choose the “stack” of blockers when there are multiple blockers to one attacker.

I am glad I misread.
[Still it's] Kind of goofy. It makes abilities like indestructible, a lot better…Same goes for regeneration.

The combat damage change is harder to swallow since for over a decade many of us have learned to use the stack to our advantage at the end of the combat phase… but I think this will also prove to be a good change for the same reason. As the announcement said, it never made sense that a creature could throw a punch, then disappear completely only to have his punch land. Doesn’t make sense in the metaphor of creatures battling. Attachement to old-style combat tricks is just that: sentimental attachment. It’s arbitrary.

There have been a lot of comments about people “quitting” the game because of these rules changes. Even a petition started with threats of quitting and boycotting WotC. Whereas I do think that’s a bit drastic–I mean, how much did you really like the game if “the combat stack” was the only allure–it is worth taking fairly seriously in the sense that the player base is not generally happy about these changes. Or maybe the people who are unhappy about this are just vocalizing more than the rest?

Over the years I’ve seen wave after wave of changes to the game, whether rules changes or layout changes, bring cries of agony and pledges to quit the game forever from the peanut gallery of morons out there, only to see, time and time again, that the changes in question improved the game dramatically. In some cases, like the new card borders, they make some mistakes. At the time, white and artifact cards were painful to distinguish, and they rectified this problem in the next printing. Overall, the changes have consistently been for the better. This comes as no surprise, given that the team responsible for making the game has grown in number and sophistication over the years. I have developed a certain amount of trust in WotC R&D, and I believe they make these changes only after thoughtful deliberation and careful testing. Thus, I met the current wave of revulsion at these new rules changes with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The simple terminology changes are great. They bring the flavor and the mechanics of the game into closer alignment, making the metaphor of two mages dueling in a fantasy setting more apt to intuitively convey the proper game mechanics. Who could ask for a better change?

What is your perspective on some of the other changes? Such as mana pool’s no longer burning before emptying between phases, the introduction of the “Battlefield” and “casting” versus “playing”?

So far as the Mulligans – Good idea. They tested this at nats last year and everyone said it seemed to work fine.
Terminology Changes…I don’t really mind. I could see this making things easier for new players and the functional changes are slight.
I think the Mana Pool Changes is dumb, especially with mistbind clique in the format and functional changes to cards like valleymaker. I don’t know about anyone else but I have personally floated mana in response to clique to then draw an instant speed answer to it.
As for token ownership – Good idea. It was pretty counterintuitive before.
Deathtouch – Only necessary because of damage stacking changes.
Lifelink – Undecided. It is a large functional change that effects more than just corner cases. On the one hand lifelink now works in a more intuitive way, on the other hand loxodon warhammer on rhox war monk (AKA the love rhino) isn’t quite what it used to be.

Lifelink and deathtouch are likewise good fits flavor wise, and will result in more players intuitively playing correctly without deep rules knowledge.

Deathtouch just became one of the most powerful abilities for a creature to possess–especially if you can give a deathtouch creature first strike such as Pestilent Kathari–only that’s a 1/1 so not that hot. Bad example but y’all get my meaning.
So far as lifelink is concerned, I think this makes more sense. Other abilities such as flying, trample, forest walk, etc didn’t have such a meaningful impact if they stacked. Lifelink stacking doesn’t make much sense in the first place but overall it has such a HUGE advantage in a game where life totals are a resource to be managed in and of itself. I’ll never forget what you told me, Joe, when you were first teaching me to play: “You’re just as powerful at 1 or 2 life as at 20; just focus on managing your lifetotal like your lands and spells and you’ll be a better player. Don’t worry so much about losing one or two life. It doesn’t affect your ability to damage, and ultimately, kill me.”

Deathtouch became my favorite ability overnight.

The only real rules issue I don’t fully grasp is why it was necessary to force an attacking creature to deal full lethal damage to each creature in the blocking line before moving to the next. I don’t see why this was necessary from a flavor standpoint. An attacker who recognizes his imminent demise might choose to wound many blocking creatures rather than kill a few and only wound one… and enforcing this new rule eliminates the viability of things like doing 2 damage to 3 of your opponent’s x/4 creatures, only to cast infest in your second main phase. Previously you would have wiped the board. Now it doesn’t quite work, and I’m not sure why they chose to do this. Still, I’m willing to roll with it.

I agree completely but the reason may be that if your creature’s “weapon” (or whatever) can’t cut through the creature completely, how is it cutting through the next one? Did i magically (doh, bad pun) skip to the next enemy? It’s probably just an attempt to streamline the functionality of combat generally–again, right along with the elimination of the combat stack.
However, it is worth noting the rules changes so far as splitting damage is concerned is contradicted by allowing deathtouch creatures to divide their damage. Meaning, R&D addressed some of the issues w/ damage allocation but then found itself backed into a cornered with creatures like Kederekt Creeper. It’s a fairly blatant “breech” of the rules and I’m finding it hard to swallow myself.

Any final last comments?

I think these are great. As a player who routinely teaches new players, these rules are a blessing, and although I’ll need to get used to them, I’m sure they’ll work out fine.

Final point. The rules are always the given. You try to use the rules to your advantage. Now that the rules are different, you’ll have different ways to (ab)use them to your advantage, and previous ways of doing so may vanish entirely. Big deal. Don’t fret and make silly promises to quit magic before you see the full extent of the changes and give them a chance to grow on you! I just keep thinking of interrupts. Who would argue that the game was ruined when they dropped interrupts?

I don’t like the elimination of manaburn. That is a very relevant factor in the game. In fact, the loss of a point or two of damage has won me a game or two in the past. I’m sorry to see that go. In fact, I don’t see the justification for it’s dropping…

That’s it for now. We’d love to hear alternative perspectives and opinions. Let us know what you think!
You can also join us in the discussion on twitter. It’s awesome for all those not “in the loop” as it’s SUPER easy to engage big-names like Flores and Brian David Marshal.

Magic the Gathering on XBox — 6 reasons not buy it

there’s not too much news out this week for magic the gathering…so i thought i would do a review ofMagic: the Gathering – Battlegrounds.

from the title of the post, you can tell that i’m not down with this shameless attempt at milking more money from the magic the gathering player base.

so why do i feel it’s a shameless money-making scheme with no real value for players? everything appealing about mtg is missing:

  1. you’re not actually playing magic…at all
  2. no collectible cards
  3. no unique art (“cool graphic” != “unique art”)
  4. there’s no social aspect to it.  might as well play any video game
  5. step backwards in developing fantasy-based games.  (there’s NOTHING new here so far as fantasy-games are concerned; it’s all old hat)
  6. how can i be a spike in such a “well rounded, no broken affect” world?

Details on each point:

1)  example:  there aren’t instants, no deck-constructing (it’s all “duel decks.”  PUKE) …all i can think is “it’s not even magic the gathering.”  it’s just a really bad licensing attempt.  for those of you not familiar with licensing, it’s basically what made disney the powerhouse it is today.  think “mickey mouse”  now think about all the products that have had mickey’s face plastered to it throughout the years.  that “face-plastering” is licensing.  Mr. Jonny Sells-Alot wants to make a t-shirt w/ mickey’s face on it.  disney says, “okay, pays Lots of Money.”  that’s what wizards did here.  they didn’t have atari make a new mtgo–because why do that when they can make money on mtgo AND mtg-battlegrounds?  well, in the attempt to figure out a way to make a magic the gathering game that didn’t affect the monoply wizards has for [legitimized] online play, atari made a bastardized, dumb-down version.

2)  there’s no cards.  this reinforces point 1.

3)  no art!?  wtf!?  no offense to the design team at atari who i’m sure worked their asses off to make this a solid game, but there’s a huge, huge, HUGE difference between graphics for a video game and art for collectible sake.  just listen to how volkan baga talks about his art. from speaking with mark hyzer at the conflux pre-release, this is something that the art team at wizards is actually very aware of as well.  (notice i’m trying to distinguish between the art team and the business team at wizards…)

4)  part of what makes magic awesome is the communal interaction we get sitting across from someone slinging spells at us.  if we’ve already established that it’s not even magic the gathering, why would i play the atari fantasy game simply named “magic the gathering” when i can play way better (read as more thoroughly developed) fantasy-based games?  for example, the elder scroll games.  they’re consistent and i’ve been playing them since arena.  this game might as well be an elder scroll game, developed and released by bethseda because this atari look-alike has 1/2 the game play mechanics (read as 1/2 the fun).

5)  hate to be labor the point but what’s so damn special about this game?  enchantments? creature-spells?  sorceries?  again, all that stuff has been in the fantasy-game world since…FOREVER.  originality:  get some.

i honestly don’t know any players who sit around thinking about the “magical fantasy” part of the game.  wizards, spells, etc are just the context of the game.  they’re elements that our human brains use to abstract into a situation where we can use our puzzle solving skills.  sure.  there’s some cool stuff with dragons and demon dragons and wizards but that stuff is just cool in up to a certain point. is it really truely possible that the people at wizards and atari don’t get that?  magic isn’t the same thing as “general fantasy.”  it’s MORE THAN THAT.  it’s more than the sum of it’s parts, and that’s why we all love it so much.  if we just wanted fantsy–and any fantasy would work–we could just play d&d anyway…

6)  uh, i can’t be a spike when the game is morphed into some sort of bastard version of magic the gathering.  only 70 spells!!??  wtf!?

anyone else have any points i missed?  is there a list of 6 reasons TO buy it?