This week I'm here to talk about tournament Magic. Ingredients: a tablespoon of rant a little dash of bad beats and a little smidgen of hope.
"Terminus means playing non-haste creatures over the next year and a half look like an exercise in futility... I think it is much much better than anyone seems to be giving it credit for being..." – me back in April
When Terminus was spoiled a terrible feeling washed over me. A terrible yet familiar feeling. That same feeling I felt for the first decade or so of Magic what so many people felt at the time when they took their pile of favorite cards to the first few Magic tournaments and got resoundingly crushed over and over.
That feeling when you first realize "Playing creatures is for chumps."
For much of Magic's early history spells were just plain old better than creatures. They did more for less mana and were much more flexible. You'd tap out for a Force of Nature a sweet looking card that was an 8/8 trampling beatstick and then your opponent would spend one mana to Swords to Plowshares it or maybe two mana to Terror it and you felt like a total dumbass.
Eventually enough people joined Wizards R&D who felt that making powerful creatures would be better for Magic and make the game more appealing and things began to change. Even on a purely aesthetic level it makes sense—why would you want the best cards in the game be ones that hit the board only briefly while on the stack and then sit out the remainder of the game in the discard pile? You spend all this time and effort on art and flavor text; why not keep most of those cards out there on the board at least for a little while! Creature cards are characters in the story of the game while spells are just moments points in the plot. Day of Judgment shakes up the story but then it's gone. Frost Titan comes down and has an agenda a goal. He means business and demands action.
So the power level of creatures began to rise while spells began to wane. And yet even at their weakest spells still define the context of the story we tell. Look at stupid Vapor Snag one of the latest Unsummon variants at instant speed (and oftentimes with flashback thanks to Snapcaster Mage)—if you're paying too much mana for a creature that comes into play and just sits there a turn before it does anything you're being a chump. If you're playing a creature that's not a Bird of Paradise type of cheap mana accelerator or doesn't have haste or an enters the battlefield trigger or doesn't somehow win the game on the spot then you're being a dumbass. And it's not just because you're being Time Walked by a stupid Unsummon but you're also getting clocked by one of the most aggressive creatures ever printed…a one-mana blue creature.
Speaking of Delver of Secrets I sure hope whoever thought that card was a good idea has been busted down to private and is cleaning the latrines in R&D.
With a used toothbrush missing half its bristles.
I mean seriously even a card as stupid as Vapor Snag sets limits on what creatures we can play if we want to have any shot at winning!
What's even worse are planeswalkers! These are basically spells that are permanent so you can use them over and over and when they're good they make you feel like a chump for playing creature permanents. Planeswalkers are "good" when they have a way to protect themselves from a threatening creature…which again constricts the sorts of creatures you can play if you insist on still trying. The latest "good" (or rather too good) planeswalker is Tamiyo which does a real nice Frost Titan impression without the vulnerabilities to Vapor Snag Go for the Throat (even at two extra mana) Day of Judgment or Terminus. In other words playing Tamiyo makes you feel smart while playing Frost Titan makes you feel like a dumbass.
I know there's been a little handwringing about designing planeswalkers; these are mythic rares and are supposed to generate excitement when they're opened up in a booster pack. Wizards wants to make them good but they don't want to go over the line and make another Jace the Mind Sculptor. I've got a suggestion: do not make a planeswalker that can "defend itself" from a creature. Give it all sorts of great abilities but don't make one that you can just tap out to play with no other supporting cards and not have to worry about getting eaten by an opposing creature. At the very least follow this rule for planeswalkers in control colors (blue black and white).
Back to Terminus. Wizards has done all this work to let us feel smart while playing creature decks; creatures that can be played out of the graveyard creatures with persist and undying making regeneration good against mass removal… Even if your opponent manages to permanently remove two of your threats with Day of Judgment if you're still left with a threat on the board you feel like you're still in the game.
Terminus even at retail is just devastating. At just one mana off the top of your deck? Utterly bone crushing; the kind of blowout that makes you feel like such a dumbass for playing creatures especially with that $35 planeswalker sitting there winking at you reminding you that sorry nowadays the smart money is on the spells. Especially spells that stick around and can be played every turn.
Here's my bad beats story. Last week I went up to play Friday Night Magic with my Standard deck. I was certain that I'd finally cracked the code on Necrotic Ooze—Griselbrand's activated ability was just insane and when I went back to having green in the deck for Birds of Paradise and Somberwald Sage (so you could feasibly hard cast Griselbrand) and Tree of Redemption (so you could turn the possibility of infinite life into a bunch of cards to let you quickly win the game) everything seemed to come together. I even thought Necrotic Ooze was particularly well positioned in a metagame that was going to lean more heavily on creature removal as opposed to counterspells (due to Cavern of Souls) since I could just play combo pieces (Bloodline Keeper Grimgrin Corpse-Born) and win with them but if they were put into the graveyard then Necrotic Ooze was perfectly happy with that.
Round 1 I got matched up with Eric. Eric's a great player who plays different archetypes but he almost always plays one of the tier 1 decks in the format and when he deviates it usually just happens to be particularly devastating to whatever I'm playing. This week was no exception; he'd sleeved up Don't You Feel Like A Dumbass For Playing Creatures.dec…aka the Standard version of Hallelujah (U/W Miracles) chock full of Planeswalkers and Terminus. He destroyed me. I had zero chance especially since I'd even removed the Hex Parasites from my sideboard and had neglected to toss in some copies of Cellar Door to try and fight against Terminus.
It's hard not to check the drop box feeling like such a chump but I tried to stay positive. Eric might have been the only guy in the room playing Terminus but I knew that would not last long. Making other people feel like dumbasses for playing creatures is an intoxicating elixir that is sure to catch on as the summer progresses. For tonight though maybe I could push on.
Round 2 I got matched up with a nice guy who just started playing Magic. He had a U/B 70-card deck with no sleeves and no sideboard with a few creatures some removal spells and some mill spells. I crushed him in two games going nuts with Griselbrand and though he really loved the nifty combos in my deck and wrote them down I still felt a bit like the bad guy.
Round 3 I got matched up with a nice guy named Moneymaker. He'd sleeved up Don't You Still Feel Like a Dumbass For Playing Creatures.dec…aka Four-Color Planeswalker Control. Lots of spells that hit the graveyard (and flashback) and lots of spells that sit on the board round after round and do stuff that makes you feel dumb. Sorin and Tamiyo and Gideon. In one game he mulliganed to five slammed down a Sorin that easily protected itself and eventually went ultimate taking my Necrotic Ooze from me to enjoy the benefits of my stacked graveyard while I stared at the Griselbrand in my hand. He took my Bird of Paradise too. He crushed me in two games.
So…I went from dumbass to bad guy back to dumbass. I was having a ball at FNM! I somehow found the strength to not check the drop box and play another round. Things were bound to improve for me in the X-2 bracket no?
Round 4 I got matched up with a nice guy who was playing B/R zombies. He had no sideboard and looked to be playing a suboptimal version but he still managed to drain my life with Blood Artists both games despite missing a lot of triggers. Now I just felt sad.
Badly bruised a few broken bones and my face chewed off like a random Floridian I finally begged for mercy checked the drop box and headed for home. At the time I vowed to renounce Standard until the fall rotation but after sleeping on it I know that's unrealistic. I love deckbuilding too much not to try and figure out something I can play. I've had some people suggest that Pod is the answer and that's definitely something I'm going to try. It'll probably be my last stand and I'll take cold comfort in being Mr. Value until all my creatures get miracled to the bottom of my deck. Just hopefully I'll get to steal someone's Gideon with Zealous Conscripts and smack them in the face with him once or twice along the way to losing the round. Oh and maybe get to make a few Zombies with Cellar Door!
There might be a little hope on the horizon. This week some of the pros on the Premium side have begun to raise the possibility of Standard being broken with Delver becoming just as oppressive a force as Caw-Blade was last year. Maybe we'll get a banning or two to open up Standard a bit. I hope so. I want to go to the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Washington DC in August but surprisingly the format I'm actually excited about playing is…Legacy?!
It's weird that in format of neo-brokenness like Legacy a midrange creature deck stuffed to the gills with value and utility—in other words a BENNIE deck—is doing so well. I'm talking about Maverick that lovely G/W deck that no longer plays the Tarmogoyfs I had to sell off late last year. I got to watch Todd Anderson play the deck on SCGLive in the Top 8 in Nashville and it really looked right up my alley.
And…I actually have just about all the cards for it. The only thing I don't have or can't easily pick up are my playset of Wastelands which went missing a few years back. Hopefully I'll be able to borrow those.
Now that I've got the roommate in effect starting in June I'm going to have my Saturdays free and clear. On the weekends I don't have the kids I hope to find some Magic games to practice. I want to get up to speed on Maverick so if anyone has any particularly juicy Maverick tech or some good pointers for playing it please let me know! Maybe I'll make a run of it on the Sunday of the Open.
For Saturday… Well I may be giving Pod a run but I don't know if I can stand eight or nine rounds of slogging through Delver planeswalkers and Terminus if that's still ruling Standard. That might actually break my love of the game and eighteen years is too long a love affair to end in such a sad way. We'll see—maybe I'll just do side drafts and pickup Commander games on Saturday. I've been doing pretty well in the drafts on Magic Online.
Have a great weekend!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback ideas and random thoughts. I've also created a Facebook page where I'll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic life or anything else you want to talk about!
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format building your first deck or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements Randomness Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy Griefing Staples Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Sigarda Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Niv-Mizzet the Firemind (Chuck's somewhat vicious deck)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Ghave Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Grimgrin Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo' Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)