It's Monday Mike. MichaelJ Monday as it were.
States is five days away. You don't even have any cards yet.
Yeah; I better go order some cards. Luckily I had Lauren Lee transform my article monies into store credit monies.
Still... You had best hurry.
I don't hurry as you know. Hustle sure but never ever hurry.
"Be quick but don't hurry." -John Wooden
Yes yes. Hustle then. Do you even know what you want to play?
A few weeks ago I was so sure of myself. This feels like one of those formats one of those Standard formats where I can hold the whole shape of the metagame in my head where I am always ahead and I always know the best thing to do. It felt that way the last Ravnica! All Masses and Melokus and eventually even Mishas!
A few weeks ago I even had a conversation with Osyp Lebedowicz about the correct progression of Rakdos's Return decks (removal first before settling on a Grixis equilibrium point). But now... I'm not so sure.
Evidence from the SCG Standard Open in Cincinnati shake your resolve?
No that wasn't it. Combination of things I guess.
Not just that Osyp and I mocked it out (pretty smart that guy...for a GP / PT champion anyway). Discussed how the Zombies play out. They can actually just discard a bunch of Gravecrawlers to Lotleth Troll and eventually ramble over Thragtusk. The combination of regeneration and trample is more strategic than it looks on its face. It's the kind of card you can go all-in on without really having to worry as long as you leave up a B. No Vapor Snag. No sneaky-cheapies on the Gut Shot. If you're willing to breathe a second and approach it like a pugilist instead of a pummeler a bit you can even go over the two on a Pillar of Flame. Really strategic little card...I think that how well you play with this one is going to dictate a lot of early success.
People miss the obvious stuff sometimes and then everyone talks about how obvious it was later.
Yeah like at US Nationals a few years ago when GerryT beat Steve Sadin in a Blink mirror the last round of Standard. It was Gerry's deck but it was supposed to be Steve's tournament. Steve opened up undefeated in Limited but lost his [physical] Constructed deck (which won the last Super Series ever the next day). He "had" to play Gerry's deck which was one of the best week-before-the-tournament metagame shakers ever.
I know this story... Gerry beat Steve with Akroma Angel of Fury.
Yeah saw me playing it the day before.
Nice! So you were able to influence even the designer of the...
Naw. To be honest I got the tech from Josh Ravitz. ;)
But it was the kind of thing that was an edge for the mirror (or against like Ghazi-Glare) that really separated the haves versus the have-nots. I think there are going to be guys who can milk their Lotleth Troll to win games that other guys are going to go crazy over. "Why am I losing?" they might ask with their little army of card economies barely holding off a Thragtusk... Meanwhile the other guy is on the offense trampling over the other guy's Thragtusk and winning a tight one.
So you're worried about Lotleth Troll?
That's not it exactly. That's not the only thing. I mean what if what I want to do isn't actually the absolute best thing? Did you see Todd's Jace / Tamiyo tag team?
I think we're in a zone where I should just pick the best thing. Rakdos's Return is a hot thing but maybe not the only / hottest thing there is. Example:
Look Mike—proximate thing right now is that it's Monday. YOU DON'T HAVE TIME TO...
Don't I? What about this one?
Literally got the call from BK the day before sketched it out over lunch with Tin Street Hooligan—He's getting married! Did you know that? GF's a looker too!—and then won the tournament the next day. No cards to start! That is what I meant about these Ravnica formats. What we figured out to do... Nothing was "broken" at the time. We just figured out the best thing to do and did it hit our mana and did our thing. They did their thing. Our thing was better. You know?
I know—I was there too.
Is that what I want to do here?
Your problem—I don't know if it's a "problem" really but just the way you look at these things—is that you are a certainty freak. You always want to know where your opponent is headed so you can get there first or get there better. You want to head them off at the pass. You have this burning desire to prove how clever you are at figuring out what everybody else is going to do and build the words "Look How Clever I Am I Figured Out What Everybody Else Is Going To Do" like an acrostic going down the side of your decklist.
But you know what? Certainty is just one side of the coin. Uncertainty is powerful too.
But when I am certain I know that I can't lose.
Well what about when you are wrong?
Look uncertainty can be awesome. How many jokes would you laugh at if you always knew the punch line? How watchable would movies like MEMENTO or THE SIXTH SENSE be (on first viewing) if you knew the twists ahead of time?
The path isn't clear right now Mike. You've already lost your certainty on that Rakdos's Return line... Where do you think other people stand?
Here I found this scribbled on an old notepad of yours. I thought maybe you might want to look it over right now.
You don't particularly need a map of the metagame to make these principles work. Look at your hand: can they race this? Are you happy to see this?
When Alex tore through one of the toughest tournaments ever—I mean he beat Finkel and Gau both in his Top 8—do you think he was worried about winning corner cases? He was presenting hands THAT COULDN'T BE RACED.
That's not a deck.
No it's not—let's focus on the things you're good at. Let's start with a simple one: what are the best cards you can think of?
That's easy(ish): I presume the four-mana Jace is going to be bonkers because Patrick is so insistent on it. Todd's win is certainly consistent with that.
Bonfire of the Damned and Pillar of Flame are highly contextual but this is actually exactly the context where they should shine. Elsewise Snapcaster Mage Thragtusk Restoration Angel Intangible Virtue Lingering Souls Geralf's Messenger + Gravecrawler / Lotleth Troll...and Delver of Secrets?
Wow sounds like you put a stack of asterisks on that Delver of Secrets.
It's tough. I had that card not only #1 creature but #1 CARD in Standard for months. It's a cross-format all-star. People think of Snapcaster Mage as the cross-format all-star but Delver of Secrets gets a lot more play in Legacy and comparable play in Modern. Both cards thrive in an excess of instants which is why they are so often seen together. It may be close but I think Delver is the stronger card overall.
And the asterisks?
You are going to have way fewer auto-wins than before I fear. No Ponder; no Mana Leak for the turn 2 blind flip. Things are going to change but I find it tough to believe that a card can fall from #1 to completely out of the Top 10 so precipitously.
I noticed a general absence of miracles...
I'll give you a pass so we can move on... How about this: what are the best things you can do?
Off the top of my head:
- Turn 3 Jace Architect of Thought.
- Thragtusk into Restoration Angel (both per Patrick).
- A Bonfire of the Damned in quite a few situations.
- (All kinds of stuff you can do with Thragtusk actually... Unburying it and Farseeking it are both hot but regular old casting it can be more than good enough)
- Cyclonic Rift into Rakdos's Return.
- Early miracle Entreat the Angels (for the race).
- Intangible Virtue into Lingering Souls & co.
- Heck blind flipping a Delver of Secrets hasn't started being bad or anything!
I doubt that it has escaped your attention that you can do more than one of some of these things; for example Thragtusk and Restoration Angel in the same deck as Intangible Virtue and Lingering Souls or Intangible Virtue into Lingering Souls in the same deck as a first-turn Delver of Secrets.
It is a beatable draw. Good...but certainly beatable.
I ordered a bunch of cards while you were telling me how beatable my deck idea is.
Did you now?
I told you—Lauren Lee converted a bunch of my article monies into store credit monies. An embarrassing amount actually... I don't know that I have ever spent this much on Magic cards before and I have been playing since 1994.
That IS an embarassing amount...and for States?
Honestly? I read an old John Rizzo article about coming back for States even after he had been away from the game and kind of internalized it. I don't know if you've noticed but I have kind of a thing for States that transcends its legitimate meaning in the grander scheme of the universe. Like there is a Team Grand Prix this weekend; I had a couple of pretty attractive team offers. It is Comic-Con in New York this weekend but I will only be attending on Sunday. Heck the SCG Standard Open in Providence is all things considered a more important tournament. But States has been the one tournament I've never missed since…2005?
So I assume you know what you are playing?
Is there a deck with Thragtusk Detention Sphere Izzet Charm Rakdos's Return and Overgrown Tomb? Because I have those now. Pretty lucky... There were no Thragtusks for most of the day (as I assume you know).
So you don't?
Kind of roundabout actually.
Maybe it is because it was Selesnya Week last week and maybe it is because I was on an Armada Wurm kick the week before. Or perhaps because everything I have been thinking about since the first suggestion that I might be summoning a Gatecreeper Vine from BDM has been filtered through the lens of a Borderland Ranger mana base.
I certainly now own a playset of Gavony Townships!
But I realized—ultimately —what I was asking myself the wrong question.
You want to cut to the punch line?
It's already up there for everyone to read.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
Well assuming I'm the kind of bloke who wants to grow up at all (keep in mind I have dedicated much of the last eighteen years to a children's card game). I really don't know that I want to be the guy taking the brunt of every Borderland Ranger joke ever.
I've figured out a couple of things but all that's pointless unless I put them into practice.
I know that the best decks have a lot of one-drops and that almost every time I've had an edge on a format I was cheaper than the deck to beat.
I know that I feel most alive when I have correctly figured out the best cards to play and just jam them into my 60.
And I know that at States I like tapping out for a six-mana Dragon.
Whatcha got then?
One Cyclonic Rift pending this is what I plan to sleeve up at States:
That's it then?
This was pretty useful to me you know.
Before I wrote this thought this out talked this out with you / me I honestly would have been packing Temple Gardens.
This though? This is more "me."
It's everything I love in Magic. It's got great threats and draws lots of cards it has great card stacked on top of great card and I even get to play a Dragon!
I don't know if I can present an "unbeatable" opening hand but a flipped Delver on the play is hell on almost anyone. And against control? All the two-for-ones plus the light counters are going to wear them down.
I've got good end games.
Bonfire is an end game when the opponent is on the clock.
… And I have a Tamiyo. ;)
But more than anything else this deck gets a ton of work out of its mana. The average mana is sub-two! But the flashbacks give you stuff to do anyway.
I don't know if you "avoid" attrition battles so much as win them all (though maybe a man could use a bit more bounce) and I can certainly go "over the top". We are maybe crossing out the seventh point about ignoring card advantage but we have a lot of it ourselves (which I guess is an indication of biased resources).
Overall I can more than live with it.
And you avoided playing Borderland Ranger.
And I am avoiding playing Borderland Ranger (or I just ordered another playset).
Lauren Lee must have been very generous.
You certain about all this?
God no (uncertainty and all that). Certain only that I am going to have a great time.
But yeah I really like my deck.