I wouldn't have admitted it before maybe this week, but I haven't played much Magic: The Gathering the past couple of weeks.
It all started (or more precisely, ended?) one Saturday when I was helping my friend Hsiao learn how to set up some Pay-Per-Click marketing campaigns. Because I am “that guy,” I made Hsiao meet me near Bella's karate class, and we worked in the hallway while Bella trained.
Bella's sensei is former World Champion Igor Dyachenko. He is basically an awesome human being and better karate teacher. Bella is unsurprisingly the apple of his eye, and he let her “graduate” past the kids' class. She trains in a basic level adult class for about an hour and a half after Clark is done in the kids' class (which she still attends), meaning she is a stud (awkward) who can go for about two and a half hours with basically no break.
Igor was on The Colbert Report a few years ago, helping Stephen Colbert celebrate Ronald Reagan's triumph over Soviet communism. Colbert (a bespectacled and hilarious Catholic New York-based writer who gained massive media popularity by imagining into existence a fictitious, egomaniacal alter ego with the – wait for it – exact same name, and a personal hero of YT) reflects on especially Igor's “watermelon” bit as one of his all-time favorites. In lieu of actual Magic: The Gathering videos (I promise that I'll have vids around today's deck first part of next week... Been busy/excuses), here are some vids of Igor on The Colbert Report:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Mr. Dyachenko, Tear Down This Wall|
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Mr. Dyachenko, Tear Down This Watermelon|
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Mr. Dyachenko, Tear Me Off a Piece of This Cake|
This story takes place a week or two before Clark started, so we didn't have to worry about him. Anyway, Hsiao and I were in the hallway working on some PPC basics, and I was playing Bejeweled on her iPhone. Once Bella was done, we were chilling out, and Bella saw me playing Bejeweled, and I thought that was the end of it.
As with many deck decisions, I was wrong.
So the next day, we found ourselves in the Apple store on the Upper West Side. I came THIS CLOSE to buying an iPad (I mean, wow... they were so cheap!), but that was only because I didn't know that the iPad 2 was about to come out. Luckily, I wasn't a sucker.
Because she is a sucker, Katherine got roped into buying the kids video games. Clark chose some kind of Diego video game, and Bella weaseled her way into Bejeweled 3. Who knew there was a Bejeweled 3?
Long story short, Bejeweled 3 has over the past several weeks become the bane of my productivity. And when I figured out what these newfangled “achievements” things were? Good lord. All I was focused on was pairing two hypercubes, clearing 300,000+ points in every category, and freeing ten butterflies at a time in one of the side games.
If there is one reason my first draft of my new thing (OMG) isn't done, not really... It's the four-plus daily hours slavishly attached to Bejeweled 3. Now I know what it's like to raid Molten Core (but with pretty butterflies and digging for treasure on the beach).
Well as of last Sunday, I cleared the last Elite Badge in the achievements section, and life resumed per normal. STUPID BEJEWELED 3.
Anyway, back to brewing.
Here is the decklist:
That is how I felt. Tricked.
How can this deck win in Extended? It's awful (or at least my Standard port was). Part of the issue is the rise of my man Brian Kibler's B/U Infect deck with Necropede. Do you know what a beating Necropede puts on a deck that is nothing but Arbor Elf? I mean I'm a person of considerably broad imagination, but you don't need too much in that department to see where this is going.
So I was like...
The problem with this is that I have all green cards. Green creatures are fine, but it's really white creatures that are overperforming in Standard, especially the little ones!
The fact of the matter is Stoneforge Mystic is just much better than not-Stoneforge Mystic, so I decided to improve my creature set with the Caw-Blade eight-pack. Additionally, I was very excited about playing Lead the Stampede, so I left that as a four-of from my Elves deck. Here is the deck I tried:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Sun Titan
- 4 Vengevine
Standard Selesnya is a G/W Squadron Hawk / Fauna Shaman deck. It has mana acceleration from green and a number of strong two-drops. Fauna Shaman can find specific tools like Stoneforge Mystic. Various cards can fuel Vengevine's re-buy capabilities, from turn two Squadron Hawk over-draws to setup via some very active Fauna Shamans. The exciting plays are largely around Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Body and Mind, either swinging turn three with a Lotus Cobra or getting a double shot off with a Mirran Crusader.
I played maybe a dozen matches with this deck.
I don't think I'd play any kind of deck like it in a real tournament.
Its explosive draws aren't that explosive (at least barring a Lotus Cobra outlier), and it doesn't have blue. I found myself siding out Lead the Stampede almost every match, and before too long, I realized I just wanted Jace, the Mind Sculptor for whatever reason I had Lead the Stampede.
The card is fine – maybe it will be a Top 10 card after upcoming rotations – but overall, I was pretty dissatisfied with this deck's performance.
Now before I get to the deck itself, I just want to say something about the concept of enthusiasm. Of all the qualities that we as people can have, one of the most valuable – and one of the least common – is enthusiasm. Over the course of the last few years, I have improved my enjoyment of my life dramatically by seeking out activities for which I can be enthusiastic.
While I have neither thrown back nor stepped into a gentleman's club in two years, my younger self certainly enjoyed an occasional evening out with the girls. Do you know how to pick a recipient for an Andrew Jackson? It's not (just) looks. The prettiest girls are often the laziest. It's not emotion. There are nineteen year olds with glassed-over eyes, teary-eyed saleswomen pitching to your sense of pity (low EV), and killer vets who strut like they own the damn place. Who you want, by comparison, is the one who works – WORKS – in the open. The acrobat. The one whose SMILE is her most obvious attribute in a world where that is counterintuitive. The one with the sense of humor who is having a better time laughing about this than you are, who is going to go write Juno when she gets home.
You can't replace enthusiasm.
I have found the positive benefits of enthusiasm to extend to my enjoyment of Magic, as well. My most memorable deck choices have often been decks that let me do something exciting and engaging, sometimes big and flashy… they are cardboard manifestations, ultimately, of my enthusiasm for Magic – dare I say, joy.
Looking back on some not-distant decks, two of them that really resonated for me this way were The Legends of Team CMU and the Biorhythm deck.
- 4 Epochrasite
- 1 Detritivore
- 3 Dimir House Guard
- 4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
- 4 Mishra, Artificer Prodigy
The Legends of Team CMU let me do so much stuff. It was the kind of deck that really fed into my craziest and favorite desires. Untap with Mishra in play? All of a sudden there are half a dozen Signets surrounding him. I figured out how to beat Persecute with Bottled Cloister (more precisely, Andrew Cuneo figured that out), and I could Moat away any Kird Apes and most Tarmogoyfs with my free Epochrasites. I had the searchable singletons, the defensive deck speed that comes with just running out a fatty, and a good measure of card power. My mantra on the day? I might not have the most powerful deck, but I am playing the most exciting one!
Playing for Top 8, I executed my combination with a crowd of onlookers behind me. I made an end of turn Rith's Charm, attacked with them all, activated Windbrisk Heights for Biorhythm, and finished him off with Lightning Helix. While executing on the play was of course nice, the reason I won't soon forget the experience was the applause. It started as a slow clap, grew.
I think it was the first time I was ever applauded over a Magic game.
These decks don't just tug at my heartstrings of enthusiasm. These are the comments left by R&D member Zac Hill:
Mike, I absolutely hate saying this, but I think you definitely "did it" with this deck. It's got everything you could possibly want. Hats off to a phenomenally original, phenomenally effective design.
I think you might have actually done it with this deck, Mike.
To make a long story somewhat less long, here is the latest chapter in this ongoing project toward enthusiasm:
I wanted Viridian Corrupter maindeck from my experience with Naya, so I added it; the shift from three to two is in many cases just the best of breed from somewhere else. Each of these two-drops can facilitate a different draw that puts the opponent on his heels.
Of course they all work together.
As I said earlier, we'll be getting vids coming up the first part of next week, but I wanted to start putting the idea out there even before the game play was ready. When this deck gets what it wants (which is “usually”) the results are pretty enthusiastic. So obviously, we want to build towards that. Lotus Cobra into a Sword came up a few times, and that was great. So I'm thinking about adding more Swords and more fetchlands. On balance, I haven't often activated Stirring Wildwood. Not “never” but not commonly. Maybe that's a card that can move around. Is Viridian Corrupter the right card? I've found the tension between poison and regular damage to be a non-value add. Is Kor Sanctifiers better?
I think this deck has some potential. If you think about it, it's kind of like a more proactive next look at the success that Caw-Blade started to lay down in Paris (first a light red splash, then a black one... What exactly can we get out of the last color in the wheel?). Personally, I am enthusiastic about answering that question.