The release of M14 is sneaking up on us, and with it will come new tools, new challenges, and even a rules change! While it's appealing to drop everything and build new decks around exciting cards like Garruk, Caller of Beasts and Chandra, Pyromaster, I don't see any reason why Jund can't remain one of Standard's top contenders.
Change in the Legend Rule
M14 brings a change to the way Magic handles two legends being in play at the same time. To boil it down to the simplest and most important changes, first, both players can now have one copy of the same legend in play at the same time. Second, if a single player controls two copies of the same legend, he or she chooses one to be buried.
It may take some time for all of the consequences of this change to fully reveal themselves. However, it's immediately clear to me that this rule has a unique meaning for Olivia Voldaren.
Take for example a Jund mirror: it's always been somewhat risky to take the approach of stealing creatures, since at any time your opponent could topdeck their own copy of Olivia, legend rule you, and set you back to square one. The first point is that the new rule may impact our gameplay decisions with Olivia.
Along the same lines, while there is no longer an explicit rule against both players having Olivia in play, Player B cannot reasonably cast Olivia Voldaren if Player A already has her on the board. Since Olivia is a vampire by default, it only costs five mana for Player A to take control of the Player B's copy. This will trigger the legend rule, and Player A will choose to bury Player B's Olivia.
The second point is that we do not want to be poor, unfortunate Player B in this scenario. I'm willing to go out of my way to have a few more answers to Olivia Voldaren since the legend rule is no longer an effective out. This presents a special challenge as M14 also brings Doom Blade, an extremely appealing removal spell... but one that does not kill Olivia. I suggest including a Dreadbore or two, as it will double as insurance against people sporting the new planeswalkers.
The new legend rule seems to increase the value of Garruk, Primal Hunter and decrease the value of Garruk Relentless. The risk of Jund's Garruk being legend-ruled by the cheaper, weaker Garruk has always frustrated me, but no more! And of course, big Garruk trumps little Garruk in any sort of fair fight.
The biggest addition to Jund will be Scavenging Ooze. From my Legacy experience, I have to say that the Ooze is simply a fantastic card that tends to outperform expectations. In Jund, it represents a creature that fits the curve well but still has substantial power to dominate a game if it comes off the top of your deck on turn seven. I also love the fact that you now have more ability to impact the board on turn two, as sometimes just trading with a Burning-Tree Emissary is all it takes to swing a game against red aggro into your favor.
On one hand, it's disappointing that Scavenging Ooze cannot be played alongside Ground Seal. On the other hand, though, you could view it as a direct improvement! Ooze is a powerhouse against Unburial Rites decks, and also has lots of applications against Undying creatures as well as cards like Gravecrawler and Chandra's Phoenix.
I've already mentioned Doom Blade as an exciting new removal spell, and Mindsparker is a great creature that fits the curve well and has a powerful effect against all of the most popular control decks right now.
Beyond that, I've tried to suggest a well-balanced list that's prepared for anything your opponents might throw at you the week after M14's release.
There are a number of other cards from M14 that may have a place in Jund sometime in the future. I'll be covering those in the coming weeks.
That concludes the strategy portion of this week's article. Next, I'd like to share a story of something that once happened to a close friend of mine.
At the time, my buddy was a casual New York Magic player; he had little interest in the Pro Tour and not much experience playing large, organized tournaments. Nonetheless, on this particular day, something inspired him to drive down to play the Sunday PTQ taking place at the same venue, on the same day, as the Top 8 of Pro Tour: Philadelphia.
After taking the full amount of time to register his Sealed deck, my friend got up to use the restroom, then bought a pack of sleeves.
It was only when he was sitting down, sleeving his PTQ deck, that he noticed the swarm of people pushing past him, finding their tables for round one of the tournament. Pairings had already been posted and, sitting there with a mess of cards sprawled out in front of him, half sleeved and half not, my friend started to become panicked.
Now, if this strikes you as an everyday situation, that's because it more-or-less is. However, think back if you can to the first big Magic tournament you ever played in. Think about the judges, and the timed rounds, and the posted pairings, and the decklists, and the player meetings, and the warnings, and the penalties, and the deck swap, and the huge crowds. Hardly the comfort zone for a casual player! It's completely natural, at least in my own opinion, to get a little flustered when something begins to go wrong for you under these unfamiliar conditions.
But back to my friend, who'd sleeved half his deck. He'd swam too far out to turn back, and yet the other bank of the river still seemed too distant for him to reach in time.
It was then that a stranger walked over, sat down across the table from my friend and volunteered to help him sleeve the rest of his deck. Perhaps the calming force of having a friend was the major factor at work, but between the two of them they finished the job in no time.
“Thanks a lot,” my buddy said to the stranger. “You're welcome,” he answered as he walked off, returning to his own business, whatever that was.
Finally, my friend picked up his cards and stood up to go find his seat for round one. But before he could, another player at the table stopped him.
“Hey, man, do you know who that was, who just helped you sleeve your deck?”
“Nope, never seen him before in my life,” my friend answered.
“That was Luis Scott-Vargas, the best and most famous Magic player in the world.”
Hall of Fame Voting
This will be my first year voting for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. I consider it a great honor, and really want to do the best job I can.
To organize my thoughts, these were the categories (in no particular order of importance) in which I evaluated each candidate.
Pro Tour Top 8's. How many Top 8's, how many wins? This is the bread and butter category. I'm looking for four Top 8's as one aspect of a complete, rock-solid resume. Four Top 8's, or even more than that, certainly doesn't guarantee someone my vote, nor does having fewer than four rule someone out. However, it's a very good starting point.
Grand Prix Top 8's. How many Top 8's, how many wins? Grand Prix results seem to be a subject of controversy among voters. One thing to remember is that there were fewer Grand Prix in the old days, and not necessarily consistent incentives to travel for them over the years. A trend I've found is that the older the voter (or the longer their experience in Magic), the less they value Grand Prix results. Unsurprisingly, as a young player who has largely made his career on Grand Prix, I value them relatively highly.
Oftentimes it's a very thin line that separates a Pro Tour Top 8 from a lower finish—a bad pairing in Round 16, a lucky topdeck in Round 14, a mulligan to five in Round 11, anything. Four or five tournament results simply do not tell the full story of a player's career. Similarly, I don't think that a single Grand Prix result really means much about a player. However, when I see someone with fifteen Grand Prix Top 8's, that indicates to me continued excellence and dedication to the game.
Pro Points. The best way to approximate the length and health of a player's career.
Lifetime Earnings Leaderboard. The second-best way.
Top 10 Finishes on the Player of the Year Leaderboard. Has a player just been plugging along, or have they really been a superstar at points in their career?
Pro Tour Stats. Median finish? Three year peak median finish? Number of top sixteens? Number of cashes?
Other Achievements. Player of the Year is the Holy Grail here. It's the single greatest accomplishment that can be considered in Hall of Fame Voting. Also, over the years there have been extremely prestigious tournaments run alongside the Pro Tour, namely the Masters Series, the Invitational, the Players Championship, and now the World Championship. Because some of these tournaments no longer exist, it's easy for them to be forgotten in time but they should not be. Also, results from National tournaments (and Team Worlds), miscellaneous other WotC tournaments, and independent tournament series can be worth something.
Deckbuilding. One of the most challenging aspects of Magic. Some professional players manage to coast through their whole careers without ever cultivating this skill. I give an enormous amount of credit to players who have shown discipline, creativity, and initiative in constructing decks for themselves and others.
Now, a few of my personal opinions on controversial issues.
Tournament Wins. Among voters, the value of a tournament win varies widely. Following a discussion on Twitter the other day, I saw various players posit a range from “hardly different from a Top 8,” to “worth 1.75 Top Eights.” Personally, I fall on the higher end of the spectrum, as I see a win as a giant exclamation point in a comparison between many great players. Whenever you finish a tournament below first place, you could have done better. Winning is the highest achievement and the truest display of dominance. I put a great value on a win, whether it's individual or team, Pro Tour, Grand Prix, or any other type of tournament.
Short Careers, Long Careers. Many of the statistics that people look at for the Hall of Fame are “rates,” “averages,” and “medians.” “Well this person has fewer Top 8s, but they've also played in fewer Pro Tours!” I find win rates and high median finishes impressive, but that's about all, they only influence my voting in a small way. In my opinion, there's no dishonor in entering a Magic tournament and losing. Personally, I got on the Pro Tour at a time when I didn't have the skill, experience, or resources that I needed to have a real fighting chance. Consequently, I did poorly in my first handful of Pro Tours; I hope this won't be held against me for the rest of my career. Similarly, I think it would be a shame for a player to ever be motivated not to enter a tournament just out of desire to preserve a high win rate.
On the contrary, a long career shows dedication and love for Magic, which I value far more than anything related to win rate. I have absolutely no patience for “this person could have done it, if their career had been longer!” Anyone who truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame will return to the game and leave nothing up to speculation.
However, there are a few statistics which indicate a player's ability when they were at their peak, and I do feel that these are quite important. One is the “Three Year Median Finish,” and the other is “Top Ten Finishes on the Player of the Year Leaderboard.”
Using All Five Votes. It seems to be a dangerous misconception that a Hall of Fame ballot must be comprised of five votes. You're allowed to use up to five votes if you truly feel that five people ought to be added to the most elite class of players that we have, but it seems to me that that should rarely be the case.
The real challenge of Hall of Fame voting is how to balance statistics with the information I have from other sources like word-of-mouth and personal experience. On the one hand, it's a shame that factoring in my personal experiences would bias me towards people who have played on the Pro Tour only in recent years, towards English speakers, and even more towards Americans. On the other hand, I do have some amount of unique perspective on the talent and character of some of the candidates, which it would be silly to ignore. I hope that Hall of Fame ballots are distributed among a wide-enough cross-section of the Magic community. If they are, and if everyone does honest research and factors in their personal knowledge and votes responsibly (I wouldn't vote for a friend unless I truly believed they deserved it), then we'll have something that approaches an even playing field.
The first time I met Luis was shortly before he played out one of his many tournament Top 8's in 2010, long before I myself had a name in Magic. In passing I told him, “Good luck, Luis,” and he gave me a genuine “Thank you.” Though I don't specifically remember it, I also must have introduced myself at the time.
I say that I must have done so because the next time I met him was a month later and he was again in a Top Eight (of course he was...). Again I told him, “Good luck, Luis.” This time he answered, “Thanks Reid!”
Speaking from experience, a professional player can meet fifty or sixty or a hundred new people each weekend that they play Magic. In spite of this, LSV took the trouble to learn my name. It meant a lot to me.
More than any other player in Magic, I look up to Luis. It's not just for his world-class play, but also for the way he treats other players and his fans with such respect. If someone ever compliments me on the way I conduct myself at a tournament, they're really paying a compliment to Luis, because all I do is try to follow his example.
There's no reason to evaluate LSV in all of the categories I mentioned above, because he frankly excels in every single one. Even beyond that, his leadership of Team ChannelFireball - for years the undisputed best team in MTG - is really something special. The Hall of Fame exists for people like Luis Scott-Vargas. He's the first name on my ballot.
William “Huey” Jensen
Since his triumphant return to Magic one year ago, Huey and I have become close friends. Despite this, I had to do a lot of research to find out just how accomplished my friend's resume is, since I did not follow the Pro Tour when he was in the peak of his career.
Huey has four Pro Tour Top 8's with one win. He has eight Grand Prix Top 8's with two wins. His Grand Prix results would be good by today's standards, but are made even more impressive by the fact that there were a lot fewer opportunities back when he played. Equally impressive are his Pro Tour stats, boasting a remarkably high median finish, as well as twelve Top 32 finishes, and seventeen Top 64 finishes.
These are solid statistics which, standing alone, would make someone a serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. However, beyond these stats, Huey is a special candidate.
Huey has managed to shine even above other great players at the professional level. He's truly distinguished himself at the absolute peak of competition. His Pro Tour win came in Team Rochester Draft, which is widely considered to be the most skill-testing format in the history of the Pro Tour. In the semifinals, Huey's team defeated Kai Budde's team, and Huey, sitting in the captain's chair, dispatched Kai in their one-on-one duel. No ordinary player could have accomplished such a feat. No ordinary pro could have accomplished such a feat. Perhaps, not even an ordinary Hall of Famer could have accomplished such a feat.
In addition, Huey won one of the eighteen Masters Series tournaments, which can be thought of as the precursor to the Players' Championship. While not an exact parallel, the Masters Series featured thirty-two players instead of sixteen, making it even more difficult in a statistical sense. It's one more example of Huey distinguishing himself, even among the absolute best in the game.
The best thing that Huey has going for him though is his reputation among the Pro Community. All of the players that I hold in the highest esteem hold William “Huey” Jensen in the highest esteem. He's frequently ranked among the best in history by those who know best.
Finally, I come to my own personal experience with the man. I have never talked to somebody who knows so much, not only about the game of Magic but about all of the countless factors that go into winning a Magic tournament. Huey is the one person I can always count on to have a deep, intelligent, and helpful conversation about any aspect of the game, at any time.
Huey has an attitude that every tournament player should try to emulate. He expects the most from himself and he's a cutthroat, merciless adversary. However, all of that comes second to honor, fairness, and sportsmanship. Winning means a lot to Huey, but he has no interest in a win unless it's earned the right way.
His reputation as one of the best team Magic players is well-deserved. And it's only tied partially to his unmatched skill in team formats. Huey also has limitless dedication to his friends, teammates, and fans, routinely putting them before himself. I don't thank him enough for the way he's always willing to drop everything and lend a helping hand.
Huey has helped me grow as a player in ways that would be impossible to explain in a single article. I could not have had many of the successes I've had this year - at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, Grand Prix: Miami, or at the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Los Angeles - without Huey. That's not even to mention the team title at the StarCityGames.com Open in Somerset that I won with Huey and Owen Turtenwald on my team! William “Huey” Jensen is the second name on my ballot.
My first encounter with Ben Stark was in the 8-0 bracket of the M10 Sealed Deck Grand Prix in Boston. Ben defeated my excellent five-rare U/B deck featuring Royal Assassin, Djinn of Wishes, Mind Control, and every other good card you can think of. He did it to finish the day undefeated with his decidedly average B/G/ww deck, where one of his two rares was a Sunpetal Grove. Ben beat me with no tricks, no intimidation, no dishonesty; I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. What can I say, it was a pleasure to lose to him.
Now, four years later, I'm starting to get sick of losing to him! I believe I beat Ben once in Constructed, but every time I've faced him in Limited, I've lost complex, challenging games, and I've left the table feeling like he was the better man. And I'm speaking as a top-level pro!
Like Huey, Ben Stark is held in high regard by the pro community, particularly for his drafting skills. Everyone feels like they have something to learn from him.
Ben has four Pro Tour Top 8's with one win. Beyond that, he's distinguished himself with ten Grand Prix Top 8's, three Player of the Year Top 10's, and a high ranking on the Pro Point and lifetime earnings leaderboards.
And I have one more personal story to share about Ben Stark. At Grand Prix: Houston, we had one of our typical complex limited matches where, typically, Ben won game one. Going to sideboarding, Ben realized that he had forgotten to unsideboard a Sewer Shambler from the previous round. The game was over, and Ben had not drawn the Sewer Shambler; he could have easily brushed the incident under the rug, and no one would have ever been the wiser. But that's not Ben. He told the table judge exactly what had happened, and the table judge went to speak to the head judge. In this case, they ruled that they would not overturn the outcome of the completed game, and simply gave Ben a warning. However, I couldn't say that Ben knew for sure what the outcome of the ruling would be, and I do believe that he would have honorably accepted whatever decision the judges came to. I also believe that if Ben had drawn the Sewer Shambler in game one, even on the final turn where all he had to do was attack for lethal, he would have called the judge on the spot and gracefully accepted his game loss.*
Statistics, play skill, integrity. Ben Stark is the third name on my ballot.
My first three votes go to Americans, whom I know personally. I have never met Makahito Mihara, but his accomplishments, as well as his reputation among players I respect, stand on their own.
Like Ben Stark and William “Huey” Jensen, Makahito Mihara also has four Pro Tour Top 8's with one win. It doesn't hurt that his win happened to earn him the title of World Champion. He also has six Grand Prix Top 8's with two wins, which is quite strong. He's high on the Pro Point and Lifetime Earnings leaderboard, and has solid Pro Tour stats.
For a while, I was unsure whether or not I would vote for Mihara, but then I learned that he's also made the Top 8 of Japanese Nationals five times, and even converted one of those into a win at the Team World Championships! He also has five Top 8's at a prestigious independent tournament in Japan called “The Finals.” Imagine an American player with a Hall of Fame-quality resume in addition to five Nationals Top 8's and long-term dominance in StarCitygGames.com Invitationals, and consider if you would vote for him or her.
Finally, Makahito Mihara has distinguished himself as a deckbuilder, designing (among other things) a Life from the Loam deck that shaped an entire Extended season. He once made the finals of a Grand Prix with a 64-card Valakut deck, which may have actually been an ingenious design since Valakut requires the presence of a large number of Mountains, but Mountain is not necessarily a card that you want to draw in your opening hand. This kind of deep thinking and creativity is a quality that helps to define the all-time greats.
Makahito Mihara is the fourth and final name on my ballot.
Tomoharu Saito and Katsuhiro Mori
These two players have resumes that could warrant inclusion in the Hall of Fame. However, I'm not voting for them because they're repeat offenders who have been suspended for cheating.
In the most recent incident, Saito was suspended for flagrant, inexcusable stalling. Please do not refer to it as “slow play” as this is inaccurate and confusing for people who don't know the details of the incident. It's far more precise to say “stalling” or “cheating,” because that's what a number of qualified judges determined that it was. I believe in second chances, but Tomoharu Saito has repeatedly pushed his luck. I will not vote for him this year or next year. If he continues to play on the Pro Tour as a 100% spotless player with no slip-ups, and if he represents a purely positive contribution to the community, I may reconsider my stance far in the future.
I will never vote for Katsuhiro Mori unless the stories I've heard about his dishonesty are proven to be untrue.
This brings up the interesting case of Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, who also has a resume that could warrant inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Mr. Wafo-Tapa was suspended in connection with the leak of the New Phyrexia Godbook, prematurely spoiling the set.
Based on my understanding of the incident, this seems to have been an error of judgment on the part of Wafo-Tapa and not necessarily an indictment against his moral fiber. Also, I believe that those who say his results are inflated by insider information are probably stretching a bit.
Nevertheless, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's actions hurt Magic, which is something that I cannot easily forgive.
If Mr. Wafo-Tapa continues to play on the Pro Tour, and represents a purely positive contribution to the community, I will vote for him in the future.
That leaves my ballot for this year:
- Luis Scott-Vargas
- William “Huey” Jensen
- Ben Stark
- Makahito Mihara
I haven't yet submitted my votes, and welcome discussion in the comments.
*Just to be clear about this story, Ben didn't have a choice about what to do in this case; to not say anything would have been cheating. If the same thing happens to you or me, we will have to call a judge. Nonetheless, the sad truth is that not every player would do the right thing in this case, so I give Ben credit. Hall of Fame players should set an example for the rest of us to follow, and Ben Stark sets an exceptional example.