So much to say. So little time. Around 2,300 words approximately.
This weekend was a landmark in a lot of ways for Magic: The Gathering, and yet it feels like some details have been either glossed over or completely rejected.
You know what I'm talking about.
The Open Series.
The monumental meltdown that took place over Twitter and Facebook. The people for it and the people against it.
And here I am. Just a guy with an opinion.
But we'll get to that in just a little while.
We have Magic to talk about first before you crucify me in the comment section.
Quick Hit #1: Control Wasn't Dead! It Was Sleeping!
The most success I've had in Magic has always been with either midrange or aggro decks, but for as long as I can remember the most enjoyment I got was from playing control. The first deck I ever went "deep" on was Odyssey/Torment Mono-Black Control. Ever the fan of strangling the pace of the game before dropping some outrageous win condition, those were the kinds of decks I gravitated towards most.
Recently control has lost a lot of viability, and for a lot of players like me, that pretty much sucks.
A large issue is the lack of a sweeper that can go online before turn 5, as it is a crucial turn in this format. Perilous Vault has been doing the best it can, but without a Day of Judgment, Supreme Verdict, or Wrath of God things haven't been looking for good for those of us that like to battle with tons of counters, card draw, and limited win conditions.
Then something awesome happened.
Mardu Midrange…Abzan Midrange…Sultai Reanimator…Temur Monsters…Jeskai Aggro….
All of these decks pushed control out of the metagame, but in order to compete with each other and the impending grindy mirror matches or midrange battles that were to take place, they had to change themselves. The sideboards became loaded with a few counterspells, planeswalkers, and disruption cards. After boarding, these pillars of Standard had to transform into pseudo-control decks in order to beat their competition.
It turns out that decks doing imitations of control decks might actually just be worse than…you know…
Actual control decks.
The last few weeks we've seen U/B Control and U/W Control hang out while the cool kids got to win Opens and dominate the top tables, but thankfully this Standard format is awesome, and two of the best control players out there decided to unleash the beasts on Richmond.
Shaheen Soorani playing Esper is about as surprising as fish swimming, but this deck was bananas for the tournament.
As evidenced by his matchup with Brad Nelson's extremely innovative 4-Color Midrange deck, Esper is able to handle heavy-hitters like Butcher of the Horde or Siege Rhino with effective one-for-one removal like Hero's Downfall, Despise, and since they all conveniently cost four, an old favorite in Dissolve. When the board gets clogged up, Shaheen can sweep it with End Hostilities, which is a four-of! The card quality in this deck is outstanding and has a lot of ways to maintain gamestate with Dig Through Time and the adorable singleton Treasure Cruise.
Planeswalkers in this deck are premium, and it looks like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver finally has a home that can support it profitably. Sorin and Elspeth are BFFs and can put your life total way out of reach when combined together.
The manabase takes us back to a simpler time last year when you could jam twelve Temples and scry the night away. It works very well for smoothing out draws and drawing what you need when you need it.
Prognostic Sphinx out of the board is the card that might warrant the most inclusion in the main, because as the announcers pointed out, it seemed that every time he was on camera Shaheen was bringing it in. The rest is truly dedicated to ensuring he doesn't lose to aggro decks with four Nyx-Fleece Rams and four Drown in Sorrow, with a little more counter magic thrown in for good measure.
Next up is the most Ali Aintrazi deck ever created, U/B Control.
Admit it. You saw Grindclock in the sideboard and were like a preteen at a One Direction concert.
The disruption package is just absurd, and tearing apart all of those powerful midrange planeswalkers and creatures probably won Ali more than his fair share of games.
And just when you thought Standard was safe from Treasure Cruise…
U/B has had a pretty big surge in coverage over the last week, so I don't want to beat you over the head any more with why this deck is good, but it's probable that Ali has redefined the way this deck should be built by adding his own unique flair ( WOOOOOO) and combining Adrian Sullivan's approach to make a very consistent and extremely potent control deck.
It should also be worth noting that Ali drew himself out of Top 8 contention on accident (we've all been there) so his ninth place finish could have easily been a Top 8 in which his matchups lined up very well.
All in all, if these midrange decks decide to try to slow down the pace they are going to find themselves woefully underprepared for traditional control and the wealth of card advantage they bring to the table.
Quick Hit #2: Brad Nelson is Also a Robot
I'm interested in hearing about your opinion on this.
Obviously I've been saying for weeks that Tom Ross was a cyborg sent from the future to the past in order to win Magic tournaments for some nefarious plot involving world domination, but further investigation leads me to believe he has a partner in crime.
If you haven't been paying attention, Brad Nelson has Top 8'd…everything he plays in.
The argument could be made that Brad is the single best Standard player in the world right now, and if you made it, I wouldn't even bat an eyelash.
His ability to use his cybernetic enhancements and analyze the data of a format is just freakish. Take a look at his Frankenstein monster from this weekend.
This deck is like Rachael Leigh Cook in She's All That. At first you look at her and she's all dorky and awkward and then BAM! Brad Nelson makes a bet with Todd Anderson that he can turn it into prom queen. Everyone thinks he's crazy, but then "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer [CEDitor's Note: You mean by New Found Glory, Mark?] starts playing and then the deck walks down the stairs and our collective jaws drop. Next thing you know he's Top 8'ing Richmond and Todd is completely floored, but then 4-Color finds out about the bet and runs away to art school. Luckily, because Brad is a robot he uses his insanely fast robot legs to chase it down at the airport and apologize because he really does love it. They embrace as Chris VanMeter starts a slow clap. Cue the credits.
I don't even know how I'm supposed to follow that up.
This deck is so neat I don't even know where to begin.
What doesn't this deck have?
The planeswalkers follow a really nice Naya theme with Ajani pumping gas, Elspeth doing Elspeth things, and Sarkhan dealing massive damage and killing creatures.
Abzan wants recognition as well, so it decided to send its best emissary in Resident Sleeper the Siege Rhino.
Xenagos, the Reveler out of the board is so good right now, and I'm sure Brad boarded it in all the time. This guy just does so much work in midrange matches, not to mention his +1 can help fix your mana a tiny bit. The four Anger of the Gods might seem like overkill, but I'm guessing Brad wanted to make sure that decks trying to go under him, no matter how infrequent they might be at the moment, never get a chance to keep him from getting his footing. The victory of Jeskai Tokens this weekend confirms his choices to a tee.
Now I'm on to you. Beep-Boop, sucka.
Quick Hit #3: SCG Broke The Freaking Internet
If you thought Kim Kardashian showing her tookus was enough to set off a firestorm, apparently you've never played Magic.
Let me take you back in time for just a moment.
Almost ten years ago I remember getting a phone call from my best friend John Dean.
"We have to go to Orlando this weekend, Mark!" I remember him saying. "There's a big-money tournament there!"
I asked how much.
"A thousand dollars plus pack support."
Get me a towel. Right now.
So obviously we were going, and this meant driving around three hours to Orlando to battle. The room was packed well beyond fire code capacity, and people were playing out rounds on tables outside. This was huge! I remember a friend Top 8'ing and how big of a deal it was.
Flash-forward a few more years and I got another phone call from John Dean.
"We have to go to Atlanta this weekend, Mark!" I remember him saying. "There's a big-money tournament there!"
I asked how much.
"Five thousand dollars."
Get me a towel. Right now.
So obviously we were going, and this meant driving over ten hours to Atlanta to battle an SCG 5K. Again, this was what we considered huge at the time, so I was sweating bullets when I came close in the final rounds, but alas--it was not to be. The feeling was palpable though, and you could tell this was just a sign of things to come.
As the years passed, 5K tournaments became an afterthought as StarCityGames rolled out a bitchin' Open Series program. The prize support doubled because player attendance spiked. Standard and Legacy became the staples of weekends and eventually blossomed into huge business for SCG and the defining tournament series for competitive Magic. Now going to GPs meant preparing for what decks had won an Open the previous few weekends, and decks were judged in the court of the Open Series by their performance. Fifteen years ago you'd never know if your deck was poorly positioned in the metagame because all that mattered was your LGS, but now everyone has this information and it's common at FNM to hear, "I'm playing this deck that Top 8'd Richmond last weekend."
In keeping with the times, SCG unveiled a new program to take place over the next six months.
Can you fathom that for a minute?
Less than ten years ago people were driving across state lines to play in one or two thousand dollar events, and now a traveling carnival of Magic delights is offering $20,000 for the main event. Not just that, but they are still offering two 5Ks on Sunday for whatever formats weren't played on Saturday.
Thirty. Thousand. Dollars.
Not only that, but to create the Grand Prix experience that SCG delivers better than anyone, the Saturday event will become two days worth of Magic.
Now I know what you're saying.
"Screw this guy. He works for them. They're making him say this."
No. They're not.
I write whatever I want and my editor 99% publishes it because he respects his writers enough to voice their opinions.
This change, mark my words, will fundamentally alter the course of Magic: The Gathering competitive play.
A couple years ago there was a very common argument: "Why would I play in a GP when Opens are way better EV? Better payout?"
You know what happened, WoTC had to step their game way the hell up to compete with the standard that SCG was setting. Prize support increased and GPs went from tournaments to once in a lifetime memories: destinations that you could vacation to, play in, and have the best time of your life.
While there are some things that will get addressed coming up by Pete, like the state of Legacy and expanding the program to different territories like the SE USA, I urge you all to practice a lot less criticism and exercise optimism and excitement.
When the kinks get worked out of this--and they will get worked out on the fly--you'll be looking at the single biggest program Magic has ever seen, and nothing else anyone brings to the table will even come remotely close.
You want more Legacy? Me too.
Make your voices heard. Kindly express your concerns. You're adults, right? I'm sure we've all read enough "these changes suck, Legacy and Modern are dead."
They're not dead.
They're not even on life support.
But unlike other companies, SCG is driven by you. You're the driver and you give the directions.
Let's make a difference together.
You are the envy of the MTG world right now, so buckle up and prepare yourselves for the biggest year in Magic history.
Why do I feel like I'm the only one super freaking excited for this?
At any rate, I just finished the latest Sword Art Online season two episode…anyone have some anime suggestions for me?
I need something to take my mind off of THE FREAKING BROWNS IN FIRST PLACE.