“What just happened? What. Just. Happened?”
Dr. Perry Cox
So, uh, yeah, seems that my grand article about why taking casual sensibilities into a serious, competitive setting being an automatic recipe for failure didn't quite pan out. First, I was wrong that Richard Feldman would beat the snot out of Ben Goodman on the basis of better bombs. Then, I was wrong that I hadn't a chance in hell of beating Ben Goodman, who was blessed by Dan Paskins himself. Then, I was wrong that getting five hours of sleep would be a serious impediment to my play.
Oh yes. It was a fine example of how-to for casual gamers.
For those Americanese out there reading this, I'm going to tell you a story about my high school life. During my high school years, I had the dubious honor of being in a small class alongside some people who, due to spending eight hours of the day with little to do, I considered my friends.
We were away on a study camp with several teachers, when it was finally put to us: this being our second last year of high school, and the run-up to that rather important thing known as the High School Certificate, we should study. “After all,” said our very longsuffering teacher, in a gentle tone of voice indicating that he, despite what we may think, actually gave a damn about what we were doing with our lives, “you're not going to get a good mark without study.”
“Well, my brother,” said one of my friends, “he didn't study, and he did alright on his HSC.”
“I'm sure he did,” said the teacher, “But I'm sure he'd have gotten an even higher mark had he studied.”
“He got 99.99 percent, sir.”
Then we all laughed. Silly teacher. What happened to this one remarkably clever man was clearly not anomalous at all. It was easy to bring to mind. We estimated – stupidly – that if this student was able to get an almost-perfect score without any kind of study on his part, surely we could manage at least three quarters of what he did. He was near us. He was the older brother of one of our friends. Some of us knew him. A fairly large number of us had at least met him. That put him right there, smack dab in our brains whenever we sat down to study. It happened to him – surely it could happen to us.
And not one of us thought more of it than that.
God, we were idiots.
I didn't study much for my HSC. I say “much…” Really, I say “much” because it sounds better than “I spent the two weeks the government set aside for me to study just for this very important exam screwing around, playing video games, and downloading porn.” I did my exams, and in true form, I crashed and burned. It's embarrassing now to think about how much better I could have done at what was probably the single most important thing in my life up to that point, had I not valued a personal anecdote over statistical evidence.
Age and wisdom, huh?
So let me stress this as much as I can for those of you casual gamers out there, waving the flag, gleeful as I Took Down The Pro.
It was a fluke.
I got lucky. I got very lucky.
I did some of that “testing” thing. It was odd. It felt kinda itchy. I initially wasn't going to… but Mournglash had the whole deck (give or take) and wanted to give it a shot, so I loaned him my Zo-Zus and we shuffled up. It is at this point that Ben Goodman, in a very faux disguise as “Fake Hat” decided to ogle our games, which is, of course, bad form indeed.*
While playing against Mournglash – it was only a few games, nothing too serious – I came to fear the Genju in his hands. Primarily because he kept drawing the bloody thing. Though with Mournglash, I could capitalise on that. Moroii now said “2UB; target opponent skips their turn and sacrifices a mountain.” Not once did I get Moroii into my upkeep, simply because I was far better off just using him to block. Mourn would point burn at my dudes, only going for the head when the path was completely clear. That's a mistake.
Also, playing the Genju aggressively – which he did – was another mistake. My best removal was sorcery-speed, yes, but I still had a large suite of instant-speed things to deal with Genju. In one game, I was throwing Gasps and Laughters at the animated Mountains, even though I had a Clutch in hand, to stunt Mourn's mana development.
Then… Ben himself.
After playing against the deck a little, I did a quick rundown of the deck itself, idly speculating about what was, and what was not, important for me in the list. My initial assessments were all wrong – after playing, I have more of a gauge on what I feel is “right.”
Though five games is no statistical sample.
Ze Burn. I don't have enough countermagic to keep this stuff away. But Ben's deck had no way to draw cards. He'd see about 18-20 cards a game, and in that time, chances are I'd see a Hinder with my level of card selection. With that in mind, I resolved to just play the math game – counter what burn I could when it mattered. Any time my life total is above eight, I'm pretty ambivalent to burn.
With Ben's deck having no card draw, after his initial flurry of burn spells (dealing, on average, three points), I'd be on about eight. This means that every burn spell from that point in was a topdeck. And that's presuming he got a perfect, burn-only draw. Creatures? Pfeh, I can smash creatures.
Glacial Ray, on the other hand, was the subject of another issue. The presence of Glacial Ray in the deck was enough that I switched gears with my initial sideboard plan, which led to me bringing in Consult the Necrosages. Yes, this is obvious to you Amazingly Good Pros and all, but what the hell are you doing coming to me for advice now?
Of the burn suite, the only real potential annoyance. Its secondary effect means I have to time my Ribbons Du Nacht with more care. Just getting me to postpone a Ribbons for one turn is brutal. Leaving a threat for an extra turn is a huge problem for me… putting me between the rock and the hard place. Fortunately, I was rarely in a situation where the Ribbons was my only means to off a creature. In the end, this is a three-mana spell that deals eight damage. So I had to be careful of these guys whenever I Ribbons'd. However, Ben also couldn't just hold them and give me turns to develop my manabase, waiting for a chance to Flames me out of a Ribboning. This meant that I was generally happy to play that particular game.
I was a lot more scared of Zo-Zu than I had to be. These guys, in the end, are just dorks. I had so many ways in my deck to make these men irrelevant that the fact one of them was a bad Ribbons of Night target was totally immaterial. I took two points of damage off Zo-Zu in five games… and that was a mistake.
Public Enemy #1. Fortunately, this fellow got to be a recurring source of land destruction for me in the five games we played; Ben brought in more burn and fewer threats, leaving him leaning on the Genju a fair bit to “scare” me. The testing with Mournglash brought something to light, though. Not only am I not scared of this fellow? I could barely care less about him.
I can wipe out a Genju, even on the draw, when it first gets up and goes sideways. I can kill it with Last Gasps cheaply, Hideous Laughters can take them out and occasionally net me some card advantage… and as long as Ben leaned on the Genju, Clutch of the Undercity gave him a very unfortunate turn or two.
And here we have the real culprit. In my incredibly experienced opinion, I felt Ben's manabase was his biggest problem. Ben mulliganed in three of the five games we played. I, on the other hand, mulliganed once. I can't say for sure that Ben mulliganed because his hands were too slow, or if he mulliganed because he lacked for mana. But in five draws, three sixers was just juicy for me.
Ben's deck had to play fair. I cheated by drawing lots of cards each turn. He cheated by running a slimmer land base than his cards would have liked. Ben has to hit four mana for optimal late-game plays – play Genju, activate Genju, dome me for six – and he wants to do that consistently.
Ben got mana-flooded one game. That was also a factor. Because his deck played fair, and had no card drawing (be it from artifact sources, or another color). No mana acceleration, either – taking an extra step in mana development was worth the bother. Every Genju let me kick a land out of his deck. Sure, the Genju could turn mana flood into a benefit… but I could turn the Genju into an embarrassing way to lose 3 life.
I was honestly expecting the Rathi Dragons to make a showing. Ben himself stated – they were the card you brought in versus Red removal. Well, last Gasp isn't actually Red, but it sure as hell looks like it for the purpose of this discussion. I couldn't ever one-for-one Ben on a Rathi Dragon. That said… I could really gank with his board by Clutching it. Then my Clutches are spread across two targets at a time. Genju needs to get in four times… dragon needs to get in four times. Both need four mana to be a real problem.
Ben did bring in Hearth Kami. To kill Signets. He never got the Dream Play of popping Signets with Hearth Kami after getting in for two. He also didn't bring in Threaten. I was scared of Threaten, initially. I mean, stealing a Moroii who's holding the ground, then braining me with it, was a real worry. Then I remembered that no sane man would keep a Moroii in his deck against burn, and quickly re-evaluated my sideboarding strategy.
The sideboard plan from my end was simpler. Out came Telling Times, in came Remands. Out went Sleight of Hands, in went Consult the Necrosages. Out went Moroii, in came Skeletal Vampire. The deck already gets a lot of mana rolling, so it's not like it's shifting a one-mana spell out for a three-mana spell is a big problem. I like Sleight of Hand – but it's not like it's vital to the deck in any way. Really, it shouldn't have been in the maindeck in the first place.
My Loving And Well-Rounded Fanbase
”If it makes you feel better, I'm pretty certain you couldn't win before Paskins said anything.”
It was a strange thing, that the prognostication of Internet forums proved to be false, but there you have it. I suppose, the second it was said on the internet, the universe itself turned everything it could be inside out, making what was once an inevitability into an impossibility. Still, what're the odds that people saying things on forums would be wrong, eh?
Nobody was rooting for me. This is just how the world works. I was playing against mono-Red. Mono-Red is so amazingly good because it wins even when it doesn't win. And when it wins, it gets to win more, by counting up its overload burn.
Dan Paskins. You have to love the man.
Having said that, I'm now going to assume that I have a vast, unnamed, silently brooding fanbase, who all think that I rightly left The Damn Pro a burning skeleton in my wake, with all kind of appropriately justice-oriented metaphors to add onto that particular scene. I'm going to assume, because that's what we do when we have nothing that even resembles evidence. That, or form a religion.
To these people, I have to make it clear. This was five games. This means that any anomaly won't have had a chance to work itself out. Maybe Ben's mulliganing wouldn't happen as often. Maybe my reliance on basics would bite me on the ass, as I found myself holding uncastable Hinders well into the late game. Maybe bringing in the Rathi Dragon and playing with 24 land suddenly shifts this from a decent matchup with luck on my side to being a total blowout in favor of psamms (who, we all know, is the actor who plays Ben Goodman).
Gods only know. Five games is not enough to get a serious gauge on this.
The other thing is that Ben was playing the much harder deck. I don't like playing Ben's style of deck because it's difficult to play. There. I said it. That's what every control player has been spending twelve years lying about. “Beatdown is brainless,” they sniff to themselves, as if that somehow matters a damn when there's a “0” next to their name and a “2” against their opponent while they tick the box marked “D.” “Sure, he may have won, but Aiiiye,” - they pronounce their “I” with extra syllables – “prefer something that exercises the old grey matter.”
Ben got to see as many cards as the duration of the game would let him. Time was his resource. He had to use his mana as effectively as he could, every turn, milking damage from his deck with every turn. I was seeing seven, eight, fifteen more cards than he was, every game. My land drops? I had twelve maindeck cards that could be thrown away to go looking for a land. Gas? Same thing. Sure, I only had four maindeck ways to win the game in games 2 and onward, but that hardly matters given that I see two thirds of my deck regularly.
My deck could blow up the world. Stop any spell. Time walk him at instant speed, and draw an extra card. Strip away his hand, getting rid of whatever struck me as annoying. Blow up his lands. Bounce his permanents. And in the rare situation where any of that wouldn't be good enough, I could just draw more cards and keep looking.
Oh, and I could gain four life and kill a threat into the bargain while drawing a card, and all I had to do to get that juggernaut of a play was to last until I had five mana, which was trivially easy with bouncelands, signets, and cantrips that bought time.
Clutch, in this matchup, was never supposed to be anything but clutch. Clutch was what won the final game for me, in fact, just by keeping Ben off balance enough for Murray to come online. And even then, Ben was a decent topdeck or two away from totally ruining me. Hell, in the first game Ben won, I gambled on him getting no such topdeck, and it ended me.
Fricking hell, Genju of the Spires can come out of nowhere, can't it?
All in All
To my worthy opponent; this was great fun, and I am still stunned that I won. What the hell just happened? It's like going to Cornwall. I mean, who the hell does that?
To Dan Paskins; I am sorry, my liege, for I have sinned and shamed the Red Deck in your eyes. My penance shall be long and painful.
To my fellow slingers of casual cards: Stop being so damn pretentious about your deck. Bitching about your opponent's creativity, complaining at length about their originality, and limiting their options by some arbitrary rules? That kind of self-interested twaddle is why people who are actually good at this game don't take you seriously. They're all just excuses. Silly, petty excuses you and I make to explain away a loss, because, well, it couldn't be that I was outplayed. Oh heavens no.
They say Timmy is the quintessential casual gamer. Honestly, some nights, I feel like the majority of the online casual room is made up of frustrated Spikes who just can't handle the fact that they're not nearly as good as they think they are.
To Murray: I love you.
To Mournglash, Ben Ashman, and anyone else who told me to play something different, or stupider still, to let them build the deck for me: Guess I was good enough, no?
And now, I go on to be the reigning champion for a single match, because that, we have learned, is how Battle Royale works.
Hope to catch you all next time, this was a total blast of an event, and I was really glad to be involved, winner or loser.
Hugs and Kisses.
Talen at dodo dot com dot au
Special Bonus Section: What I was Going To Write, In Haiku
When I write an article I start by scrawling down a handful of notes. These notes, once scribbled out, get saved in a file to be fleshed out later. I figured since I couldn't be a champion to the casual gamer, I'd be an object lesson – so my notes reflected that.
To my amusement, after I sifted through these notes, I found I'd written them in haiku. I had to check with a friend that I actually had written them out in haiku, but here we have them.
The rules of the game
Untap, Draw Once, Lay Land, Turn
These And These Alone
No Jittes, No Discard
No counters for my spells, Sir
Casual Means My Way
I carry a weight alone
* It was Ben Ashman. Just so nobody thinks I'm actually serious about calling Ben a cheat. An actor hired to play the part of Ben Goodman after his unfortunate death in a car accident, sure, but a cheat? No.