I had intended for my article this week to be about all of the Magic I played while at GenCon but as it turns out I didn’t play a single game while I was there. Well that’s not true – I played a whole lot of games but not a single one of them was Magic. My primary purpose for attending GenCon this year was for the release of Ascension the new deckbuilding card game I’d helped design and we were far too swamped with people who wanted to learn how to play for me to get away even an hour before the hall closed to play in the afternoon events. While it would have been fun to play in the Block Championships being too busy selling our game was a good problem to have. But don’t worry my article this week won’t just be a shameless plug for my game though I must admit I did consider writing about Pyromancer’s Ascension before Gerry beat me to it.
As far as Magic is concerned there’s a lot on my mind these days. With U.S. Nationals Grand Prix: Gothenburg and Pro Tour: Amsterdam all inside the next month I have to prepare for Standard M11 Limited and Extended all at once. On top of that it’s voting time for this year’s Hall of Fame and my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of debates over who should be in and who shouldn’t. That’s a lot to process but I’m doing my best. Let’s go one by one…
The most powerful things going on in Standard right now are Jace decks Primeval Titan decks and Fauna Shaman Vengevine decks. We saw French Nationals fall to U/W and Australian Nationals to Valukut Ramp and now Spanish Nationals to Fauna Shaman Naya completing the title triumvirate. Let’s take a look at his list:
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 3 Cunning Sparkmage
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Realm Razer
- 1 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Sun Titan
- 4 Vengevine
This is pretty standard as far as Naya Shaman decks go though Anibal plays a few more tutor targets in his main deck than most versions. The singleton Realm Razer is a clear nod to the Primeval Titan decks providing an answer to massive mana acceleration that is tough for many of the ramp decks to deal with. The most prominent difference between this version and most of the others that have popped up is the presence of Ajani Vengeant. Ajani is a card that presents a serious threat to U/W as well as an answer to opposing Fauna Shamans although four-mana removal isn’t the best way to deal with a creature that can start providing serious value as early as turn 3.
If I had to pick my deck for Nationals today I think it would be Naya Shaman. I’d prefer to play some kind of Bant Shaman deck for access to countermagic but Cunning Sparkmage is such a problem for that style of deck and Naya is so popular that it seems like a poor choice. Naya Shaman seems like it has the tools to win the Green mirror and sideboard cards like Manabarbs give the control portion of the metagame absolute fits. I’m going to keep looking for a way to make other strategies work but Naya Shaman remains my fallback for now.
I wish I had the lists from GenCon’s Midwest Masters series to examine but as of the writing of this article they aren’t available so analysis of those decks will just have to wait.
As for M11 draft I haven’t played nearly as many as I would like. In general I’m a big fan of Blue and White and not a huge fan of Black or Red. This may seems strange since Black and Red are colors with the most removal but their creatures are just atrocious. I had a removal-laden B/R deck that seemed like it ought to be fantastic by most metrics but I just found myself outclassed by the creatures my opponent could keep in play while I had random Black and Red dorks.
My most success has been with U/W since counters and bounce can often masquerade as removal and your fliers can race most ground assaults if you can play even a single Siege Mastodon. Drafting M11 feels much more tempo oriented and much less bomb-defined than M10 did but I still can’t say I’m looking forward to playing the next three major premiere events in the format. There’s only so many ground stalls with one player sitting there with a Crystal Ball that I can take!
On the Extended front there’s still not that much information out there but what information there is suggests that it may be time to get the band back together. Punishing Fire/Grove decks of various stripes have been tearing up Magic Online particularly in the form of U/G/R “Good Stuff” decks. I’m certainly not going to reveal just what I’ve been working on for the PT but I have to say that I’m disappointed that I won’t be the only one with that tech this year. I have a feeling that the dominance of Faeries that was predicted when the new Extended format was announced will be the boy crying wolf due in no small part to Punishing Fire.
That said there’s a lot of non-Fire decks out there. Living End literally did not lose a single card from last season and that’s a deck that I certainly wouldn’t want to play against with my Austin deck. Even with Hypergenesis gone there’s still a second cascade deck to worry about too. Restore Balance decks didn’t show up much last PTQ season but I had the opportunity to play against one of them when I was gunslinging with my Austin deck at a pre-release and it certainly was not pleasant. These two combo decks will do a lot to keep the Fire decks in check forcing them to work to fit the appropriate hate rather than just all the best cards.
I’m looking forward to Amsterdam. It has all the quirks I love about both new and established formats – unexplored interactions to discover as well as top decks to anticipate and build around. It also happens to be the weekend before my birthday so there’s the little detail of celebrating turning 30 in one of the most fun cities in the world. The tournament is definitely what I’m more excited about though – I’m a gamer through and through.
That weekend also happens to be when the inductees for the 2010 Hall of Fame class will be announced. While I hope to receive the dual birthday present of a PT trophy and hearing my name in that announcement I’m not going to use this space to campaign for myself. If you believe I deserve your vote then vote for me. If not I hope to change your mind by my future performances and contributions to the Magic community not by sweet talking you.
That said here are my thoughts on this year’s Hall of Fame.
When Finkel was inducted in the first Hall of Fame class there were two people who didn’t vote for him. I am told those two people no longer have votes. I feel Gab falls into that same category – if you don’t vote for him you shouldn’t be allowed to vote again. Gab has by far the best resume of anyone on the ballot this year and better than anyone in any year save Jon and Kai. His name deserves to be up there with the absolute best to ever play and on top of that he’s a great sport and a fun player to watch. Who can forget Gab arranging his mana for Cruel Ultimatum and then ripping it off the top to win? He has my vote and he should have yours.
When the ballots were first released I felt like Nassif and Saito were the two mortal locks from the class. Since then questions have been raised about Saito’s history that have led me to question that position. I was entirely unaware that he had ever been suspended for cheating. While I consider Saito a friend and truly believe he both deeply loves and is fantastic at Magic it’s hard for me to vote for him with that in mind. Without that dark cloud there’s no question he’d be on my ballot. There are those who say that Olivier’s induction a few years ago has already marred the Hall of Fame as an institution that is open to those who play outside the rules but I didn’t vote for Olivier then and I’m not sure I can vote for Saito now.
Last year I voted for three American players who did not get in and here’s what I said about them then. I feel the same way about all three of them now.
I list Chris first because I feel like he is the most important person on my ballot in some ways. While many people seem to vote primarily based on the various statistics each player has racked up I feel like the Hall of Fame should showcase not only the winningest players in Magic but also those who made the Pro Tour what it is today. Chris is one of those people. He was not only a consummate storyteller who entertained anyone within earshot but also a constant crusader for fair play. He was my predecessor in the commentary booth and while I’m sure you’re all thrilled that you can find all the archived Top 8 broadcasts that I did in my day I for one am quite disappointed that Pikula’s repartee has been lost to time.
When Meddling Mage was reprinted earlier this year without Chris’s image I feel like Wizards lost a great opportunity to highlight one of their star players from years past. The fact that Chris has gone on from Magic to a very successful career on Wall Street and raise a family makes me feel that way even more. Chris is a great example of a onetime Magic great who has thrived in the years since he’s left the game – and in a much more family-friendly way than the legions of poker players out there. I think Chris is someone who is great for the game and who deserves his place among the greats of the game for all he contributed to the history of the Pro Tour.
Steve O’Mahoney Schwartz:
Steve was one of the most dominant players in Magic’s early years. Even before the Pro Tour he was one of the New York kids who dominated tournaments all over the East coast. I remember going to the Grey Matter 1k tournaments way back when and Steve was one of the most feared players there along with his brother Dan and some goofy looking kid with a fro named Jon Finkel. Steve’s accomplishments were overshadowed a bit by his association with Jon I think. He was one of the original road warriors traveling overseas to Grands Prix long before anyone had ever heard of Olivier Ruel. With a Pro Tour win among his three Top 8s and nine Grand Prix Top 8’s under his belt Steve’s numbers are certainly very competitive and I feel his success on the Pro Tour and his role in forming the pre-Pro Tour Northeast Magic scene put him over the top as a contender for the Hall of Fame.
Speaking of people overshadowed by his teammates Justin is the last remaining Your Move Games mainstay who is not in the Hall of Fame. While he wasn’t a part of the original three-man team Justin was a major part of YMG’s success over the years and was the winner of Pro Tour: Houston that YMG so utterly dominated. Not only does Justin have four Pro Tour Top 8 finishes to his credit but he was also the most consistent player on the Pro Tour for a long time. Back when Mindripper published its first “Power Rankings” an evaluation of player performance that was much less top-heavy than the PT point system Justin was firmly #1. His median finish at his peak was something like 20th which is truly outrageous. I imagine much like if Steve hadn’t been Finkel’s teammate that he would have gotten much more attention in his career if Justin hadn’t worn the YMG dragon he would have been inducted into the Hall of Fame already. He deserves it.
I feel like players from the earlier days of the pro tour are often overlooked and passed over in the statistical analysis from modern times with the inflated PT point totals and far more events. Chris Steve and Justin also all contributed significantly to the growth of the community of the Pro Tour. Chris was the game’s first storyteller Steve was a pillar of one of Magic’s most dominant cities and Justin – when not wearing the YMG dragon – was the spotter on the floor for Pro Tour Top 8 broadcasts. They all have resumes comparable to Frank Karsten who was inducted last year and in Steve and Justin’s cases have PT wins to surpass Frank’s stats.
I’m certainly voting for Nassif and I’m also going to cast my ballot for Chris Steve and Justin. My fifth vote which I had previous thought was going to Saito is still up in the air. I’m going to have to do some digging and some soul searching to figure out what that last name on the ballot will be.
That’s all for this week.
Until next time…