When I was in school, I rarely did my homework. My classes, for the most part, were quite easy for me, and I was able to retain everything I needed to do well on tests just by paying some semblance of attention in my classes.
I'm sure many of you out there were the same way. It's a common story among Magic players. In many cases, kids turn to games like Magic because they're looking for a kind of intellectual challenge that they aren't finding in their education. I'm sure many of you have notebooks full of decklists rather than math problems, physics formulas, or whatever else—just like I did back when I was in school oh so many years ago.
The thing is, when you're in school, you only have to surpass a certain threshold in order to succeed. Sure, things may change at some point in your later education, but most of our experiences in school revolve around just having to do well enough in order to get an A (or whatever other grade you might be satisfied with). The goal isn't to do as well as we can but just well enough to get by.
The same isn't true of any genuinely competitive endeavor. While I may have coasted through school without having to do my homework, I encountered something very different when I started playing competitive Magic. Here I was competing against other kids (and many adults) who had never had to do homework either, and we were all looking for a way to get ahead.
Back then, websites like StarCityGames.com didn't exist. The only real Magic site was The Dojo, which most of the time was more a collection of tournament reports than a place for serious strategy. Besides the Dojo, the best places to find strategy content were the Usenet Magic newsgroup and the various Magic channels on IRC. Back then, I was absolutely voracious when it came to consuming Magic content. I read everything that was posted on The Dojo or the Magic Usenet group, and I spent hours every day chatting in #mtgpro, #mtgwacky, and more.
After playing in a Boston-area PTQ with the Song of Blood–Necratog deck I learned about from a tournament report by Gary Wise on The Dojo, I worked with Brian Schneider over IRC on a mono-blue Ophidian deck, the shell he beat me with in that very tournament. I knew from my research across the internet that the Song of Blood deck and Mono-Black were likely to be popular, and as a result I sideboarded Knight of the Mists to deal with opposing Fallen Askari, as well as the Vodalian Illusionist / Serrated Biskelion combo plus Winding Canyons to give me the edge against other Ophidian decks (how many of you know what those cards do without looking them up?).
Doing my homework paid off. I won the next tournament I played in, which just happened to be GP Toronto, one of the first Grand Prix ever, way back in 1997.
What am I getting at here? That doing your homework is important, at least where Magic is concerned. I see people all the time arguing in forums and in the comments on articles about who came up with what idea first. People are obsessed with getting credit for decks or even just individual cards. I have to wonder if people rush to their computers at midnight when cards are being spoiled, not because they're excited to see what's coming out in the new set, but so they can feverishly type “FIRST!!11!!” to lay claim to being the source of the hot new tech.
I don't care about being the first person to think of a particular idea—I care about being able to turn something from an idea into a winning deck. That Ophidian deck I played in GP Toronto was largely the brainchild of Brian Schneider, and most of my “innovations” were ideas I found suggested somewhere on Usenet. The Armadillo Cloaks in my PT Chicago 2000 deck? I saw them in Jon Sonne's sideboard from New Jersey States earlier that year. Even the Naya deck I played at GP San Diego just a few weeks ago had any number of ideas pulled directly from decklists I found online, most notably xMiMx's Blood Moon Naya deck.
Any time I'm preparing for an event, I'm constantly scouring the internet for relevant information. The absolute best source is the “What's Happening” page from Magic Online. While WotC may have cut down on the quantity of decklists available by going down to publishing a single event of each format per day, there's still an absolute gold mine of information there. If you consider yourself a serious competitive Magic player and you don't have the page bookmarked, you're doing it wrong. Here, let me help you.
I spent a lot of time scouring the Modern decklists prior to GP San Diego, and I'm sure I'll do exactly that again prior to GP Portland (not to mention the RTR Block lists for the Pro Tour immediately thereafter). But for now, Modern is mostly an irrelevant format seeing as the PTQ season is over.
I'm still debating whether I'm going to attend the SCG Invitational in Atlanta next weekend, however, so I've been doing a lot of research into Standard decks. Let's take a look at a few that stand out, shall we?
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 3 Gloom Surgeon
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 1 Hellrider
- 4 Knight of Infamy
- 3 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 4 Vampire Nighthawk
This deck is interesting to see at 4-0, since it looks like something out of last season's Standard. What's worth noting here is the replacement of Hellrider with additional cheap creatures in Gloom Surgeon, which is quite potent against other aggressive decks. Given that it was the rise of Mono Red that largely proved to be B/R Zombies' undoing before, this seems like a development worth exploring. I'm particularly excited by this because I think powerful fliers are one of the best ways to combat the Junk Reanimator decks that have been so popular lately, and they don't get much better than Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite. While this particular list doesn't play them, similar decks had a great deal of success combating Thragtusk decks with Threaten effects like Act of Treason or Traitorous Blood in the past, and I see no reason they couldn't continue to do so in the present.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Hellrider
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Wolfir Silverheart
This deck is interesting to me because it's a much more streamlined take on the Gyre Sage aggro deck that EFro played at the Pro Tour and that I experimented with in the weeks after. The biggest problem that deck had was its mana and specifically how many M10 tap lands it had to play in order to support Boros Reckoner. This deck eschews Reckoner entirely and has a much heavier green base, which also gives it additional acceleration in the form of Arbor Elf. I'd be tempted to add Thundermaw Hellkites in here because I think it's one of the best cards in the current environment.
However this is definitely a strong starting point, especially given the recent decline in Reckoner's popularity, since that would not be a card I'd want to face with this deck. I like the use of Rancor in the sideboard, a change I've considered making to my Ooze deck myself, since it's a card that's quite ineffective against other aggro decks in the format.
This is one of those decks that make you stop and say “what?” It's easy to just pass over a deck with four Slitherheads and ignore it altogether, but that's not how you find hidden gems. This deck looks to use Grisly Salvage as an enabler for all kinds of things—Deathrite Shaman, Lingering Souls, and the scavenge of both Dreg Mangler and Slitherhead. While my inclination is that Unburial Rites is a more powerful way to leverage the card, it's worth noting that four maindeck Deathrite Shamans are likely to give this list quite the edge against opposing Reanimator decks. I'm still not convinced that Slitherhead is a card I'd want to play, but it showed up in a Modern deck at GP San Diego a few weeks ago, so I'm certainly not going to count it out yet.
Another deck with some…unusual card choices. I'm really not sure what to make of four Shrieking Affliction, especially with only Rakdos's Return as discard, but I think the more interesting thing to look at here is the use of Mutilate in an otherwise aggressive Zombie deck. Many of the aggressive decks in the format—like Naya Blitz—can't really play around mass removal out of an opposing creature deck, and you don't even have to worry about sandbagging creatures if they're just going to come back. While I'm fairly certain the rest of the deck is pretty seriously flawed, the idea of playing Zombies with Mutilate is something that can open up new things to try. What about B/W Zombies with Alms Beast and Mutilate, since it's almost certain to live through it every time, and you have Lingering Souls to reload, as well as Gravecrawlers and Geralf's Messengers?
Sometimes the homework assignment isn't really about finding the answer but about finding some nugget of truth buried within.
- 2 Angel of Jubilation
- 3 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
We haven't really seen B/W Tokens much in the current Standard format, despite the mana for the deck getting drastically better with the addition of Godless Shrine. Unfortunately, Izzet Staticaster has made something of a comeback thanks to the rise of Naya Blitz, so it's unlikely this is a deck I'd really want to take to battle myself, but it's worth considering for the future when the hateful pinger goes back into hiding for a while.
Speaking of Izzet Staticaster—this is a deck that takes full advantage of it. The first thing I noticed looking at this list was the synergy between Staticaster and Reckoner, giving you a way to redirect damage to your opponent or deal multiple damage with a single Staticaster activation if you have multiple Reckoners in play. I hadn't actually thought of that interaction before, but seeing it in this decklist made me realize it instantly.
Sometimes homework is just about realizing what you should already know.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Predator Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 3 Wolfir Avenger
Nothing to say here except that this dynamical fellow seems very intelligent and is also probably quite handsome.
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Sylvan Primordial
- 4 Thragtusk
Now this is a deck full of interesting possibilities. Not only does it have two Acidic Slimes but the full four maindeck Sylvan Primordials! I'm not entirely sure what PortalIsland2 is looking to blow up, but I like the commitment to going big, if nothing else. I'm somewhat disappointed to see zero copies of Restoration Angel in here, since they seem like they'd go quite well with all of the enters-the-battlefield effects.
I'm pretty excited to see Gruul Ragebeast in the sideboard, as it seems like an incredibly powerful card in any kind of midrange matchup. Angel of Serenity? Sorry, it's going to fight my big dog over here. And now my Sylvan Primordial is going to fight that. And my Thragtusk is going to fight that. And so on, and so forth. I'm not sure if trying to build up as much mana as this deck wants to do is realistic, but it's certainly exciting, and that's enough to get my attention. I'll certainly be looking at some of these cards as options for my own Gruul or Naya decks that are looking to go big in the future.
A lot to take in? Those were only the lists I picked out as interesting from two Daily Events! It may seem like a lot, but it's only the beginning. If you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed in Magic, don't just coast along and be happy with “good enough.”
Do your homework.
It may seem like a lot of reading, but once you try it, you may just find it fun, like I do. And don't just copy off of your friends, either, because who knows whether they'll have the right answer—and besides, it's important to learn this stuff for yourself. It could come in handy someday.
Until next time,
While I'm not sure if I'll be at the SCG Open Series featuring the Invitational in Atlanta next weekend, I highly recommend anyone who can go to make it out. In addition to the Invitational and Standard and Legacy Opens, the weekend will feature the first Ascension Immortal Tournament. This event is put on by Stone Blade Entertainment in partnership with StarCityGames.com, and the winner will become immortalized with their likeness on a future Ascension card! All participants will receive an exclusive promo card just for playing, and additional prizes will be awarded to top finishers. Want your face on a card? This is your chance.