I'm nursing a pet peeve about Theory articles.
A lot of writers are suddenly churning out Theory articles for this soon-to-rise-here Magic University. Thing is, they're doing it in a vacuum. Hardly anyone reads anything recently written and relates what they're talking about to what's been said.
It's academically arrogant.
More importantly, defeats the idea of a structured academic-type discussion in the first place. I think it was bad enough that someone wrote an article on"Option Theory" without realizing that retired Featured Writer Israel Marques had proposed the exact same concept three years ago on the same site, but now, even rants are being recycled.
Move on, people.
Or, at least tell us why your little revisit is saying something different from what's already been published on StarCityGames.com and flamed ad infinitum in the Forums.
Grant Babcock and Option Theory, Take Three
Grant is, off the top of my head, the third person to formally take up this"Option Theory" on this site (see"I CAN'T Play Type I"). The rough proposal: You can abstract Magic's various resources into"options."
More importantly, Grant asserts that you can count "options," and that my"baby food mush" objection can be addressed if you tweak Option Theory enough.
First of all, I'd like to thank Grant for taking up past critique of the theory in his article and resummarizing those critics' points before bashing them.
Now I'd like to bash him back in the nicest possible way.
My main objection was that"options" in themselves don't mean much; there are good ones and there are bad ones. If I could play a deck with twenty lands and forty one-mana 10/10s, then to hell with options. I gave the example of Spite/Malice: You get two options in one card slot, but two bad, overpriced options at that. On the other hand, Disenchant and Naturalize are wonderful cards even in Type I.
Ah, but Grant says, Oscar misses the point! Spite/Malice actually gives you less options because you need to hit four mana before you can use them!
And the defense demonstrates exactly why Option Theory is baby food mush (see"Counting Shadow Prices, Unifying the Theories of Magic").
I said Magic is best quantified as a cardboard stock exchange, where you trade various resources: draw steps (see"The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution"), mana (see"Counting Tempo, Part II") and resources relevant to win conditions like life (see"Counting Tempo, Part III").
"Option Theory" tries to break out of this framework, yet you have to go back to CA and tempo anyway.
Option Theory easily gets ridiculous. For example, if you topdeck Fire / Ice, you can tap every permanent on the board and Zap targets in various combinations. But by Grant's own retort to Spite/Malice, a more important reason why Fire/Ice is great is because it's so efficient. On the other hand, Twiddle also gives you a lot of"options" for one mana, but I haven't seen one since the last time I saw a Fourth Edition pack being opened. [Apparently Oscar missed Extended season and an article or two by smmennycakes. - Knut]
Thus, Grant's explanation implies that not all"options" are equal - a lot of them are irrelevant.
So how do you tell if an"option" is relevant?
Draw steps? Mana? Life points?
Again, you're going back to the relationships between resources.
Note I'm coming from the viewpoint of a Type I"The Deck" player, an archetype that's increasingly been under pressure from the Type I metagame to incorporate more flexible and even more redundant components.
However, flexibility has to be efficient to win games.
One last point from Grant:"I don't know if you can get better at Magic by simply reading articles. After writing this (my first), I can say for sure that writing articles can make you a better Magic player; explaining things on paper forces you to rethink your assumptions and deepens your understanding of the game."
Knowledge to live by.
Tom Carpenter, and a Microeconomic view of Magic
On the same day, Tom Carpenter proposed"Power Gap Theory," a far less ambitious proposal. Having corresponded with Tom, I can tell you it's pretty simple, or at least a lot simpler than the rest of our e-mails.
First, he proposed a metric idea of Magic, a single score that can rate each card and then each deck (see"Counting Shadow Prices, Unifying the Theories of Magic"). I said it won't work, because that's"baby food mush."
Second, he said maybe you can limit what you score, say to creatures. I said that's a lot simpler, since you only have to count power and everything else. The more power, the less attack phases you need to win. Most other characteristics affect other resources; for example, flying and shadow determine whether they deal damage past blockers, four toughness dodges Lightning Bolts, three toughness blocks bears, protection and untargetability make certain cards dead, and so on (see"The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution").
It's a handy little thought for aggro players, as well as aggro-control players, if you consider that cards like Duress, Sinkhole, and Force of Will can freeze tempo, something you abuse if you have a lot of power on the board already (see"Counting Tempo, Part III").
As usual, though, a lot of forum regulars flamed Tom as irrelevant and useless. I think, however, that narrower, less broad theories are going to be more useful these coming months. I mean, everyone and his mother is trying to reinvent the"Grand Unifying Theory" of Magic.
I agree with Richard Melvin a.k.a. soru that certain decks or matchups might be better studied with more specialized models. He said, for example, on the forums that you might focus on other things for a Burning Bridges mirror, since some of your usual draw steps-mana-life factors are irrelevant in such a curious matchup.
Maybe, after all this"grand" stuff, people can focus on narrower slices.
Again, our two rules:
Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)
Does the card do something no past card ever did, and if it does, is this new card playable?
And, for the more general discussion, refer to"Shadow Prices" (see"Counting Shadow Prices").
Moving through my usual order, today's article takes a look at all of Darksteel's sorceries. I was starting to wonder why there were so few of them when I remembered it was the artifact set.
Damn, but that brings a chill down my spine until I remember we're not talking about Urza's Saga anymore.
No matter how much Geordie's cardboard advantage theory cries about it, a token is +1 CA -
Oops, sorry, this isn't Misetings.
Even if your Black deck needs an anti-modular, anti-flashback sideboard, you'd still think twice. Even Perish is way better against those pesky Thallid decks.
Damn you and your Tivadar's Crusade, it sure is hard to be cute in Type I.
What did Tinker do? For three mana, tutoring for an artifact isn't so bad. What breaks Tinker, however, is the tempo boost generate by putting an expensive permanent straight into play, anything from Memory Jar to Gilded Lotus.
Reshape retains the tutoring, but not the mana boost, and is no longer broken. First, there aren't a lot of artifacts you're dying to set up like this instead of playing multiple copies, and especially not a lot for three mana or less.
That said, focus on the restricted artifacts. Memory Jar is impossible and Black Vise isn't worth it.
Looking over the rest of my cheat sheet, did you know that Candelabra of Tawnos, Dingus Egg, Feldon's Cane, Gauntlets of Might, Icy Manipulator, Ivory Tower, Mirror Universe, Sword of the Ages, Time Vault, and Zuran Orb were all restricted once upon a time in the ancient days of Magic?
That said, your most devastating Reshape target is probably Chaos Orb.
Limited players must be drooling over having this as an uncommon, but as for me, I'm just happy to see this in print with the"Y" in the casting cost!
A new Pyroclasm, albeit slightly more powerful, slightly more expensive, and impossible to splash. A slow, control-ish Red deck doesn't exist in Type I, so too bad. Moreover, and not just because of the Lightning Bolt benchmark, there are simply so few three-toughness creatures in use aside from Juggernaut.
Reap and Sow
Sylvan Scrying was a lot less lethal than Crop Rotation because it costs one more mana and a land drop. Reap and Sow costs three more mana but no land drop, but at that point, the land drop matters a lot less, and there aren't a lot of lands you're dying to fetch. For example, it's pointless to use this to set up a small Tolarian Academy or even Gaea's Cradle for the mana boost that in turn sets up your combo.
R&D supposedly reserves the short, snappy names for simple cards that might make an impact, so let's take a look here. Scrounge looks innocent enough, but it's one of few Black cards that do something with artifacts, something so un-pie-like these days that you take notice the way you take third looks at Gate to Phyrexia and Phyrexian Tribute.
Ideally, you'll get to Duress or Hymn something juicy then Scrounge it, but there are just a lot of problems and not enough matchups that generate a reliable target, especially with instant graveyard manipulation like Thirst for Knowledge, Goblin Welder, and even Survival of the Fittest. For now, it's just something to note.
Pox was once somewhat playable in Type I, but the post-Pox threats are just so much slower than, say, Illusionary Mask / Phyrexian Dreadnought. If you were to build a Pox deck today, you'd just take the disruption and replace Pox with a deadlier disease.
Pretty much the same thing for more mana isn't going to speed things any.
Unless a Green-heavy deck is good and there are a lot of slower artifact decks out there, Rebuking Ceremony is good mainly for those armchair theorists. W.H.A.T.H.E.F.U.C.C.?
It's a bit different from Plow Under, since you rob your opponent of land drops. Rebuking Ceremony simply trades one draw step and five mana for two of your opponent's draw steps and whatever mana he wastes replaying the artifacts.
Now the important question: Just how many synonyms for"Drain Life" can you come up with anyway?
How does a Ruin Echo anyway? Maybe when you have just one artifact out, your opponent can do an annoying fake echo out of spite? I bet it's especially annoying if you find someone who plays Bottle Gnomes and he can make yolk drip sounds (hint: look up the Tempest version in the Star City store).
But hey, I'm sure this rocks in Sealed Deck, Limited expert that I am.
Sadly, ten mana and triple-White doesn't go well with artifacts by any measure, and more casual-worthy creations like Wildfire had a more manageable marquee card. If you feel like running this, a set-up Cataclysm will likely achieve the same thing.
Obviously, I'm not talking about competitive Type I anymore, and not just because of all the Mishra's Workshop decks you'll run into anyway.
Enchantments, like artifacts and sorceries, tend to go by Rule 2, and you're trying to find a powerful, creative new effect for a playable cost. Very few enchantments are bargain versions of common effects, like Seal of Cleansing.
Darksteel, unfortunately, just doesn't have a lot of enchantments.
Now I'm left with... Carry Away?
Well, there's isn't a lot to be said about land, unless the particular mix gels decks a lot better than the old cards - and take note that City of Brass and dual lands are a tough benchmark to beat. It has been beaten, for example, and you now see Glimmervoid alongside City of Brass in combo decks.
Speaking of City of Brass, here's one very interesting contender."Comes into play tapped" is too big a drawback and too boring anyway, so they made a pretty good rehash of a depletion land instead.
Now, City of Brass was an amazing land, since you could stop using it when life became important and precise color-fixing stopped being important. It's just that Polluted Delta and friends got so chummy with the dual lands, who realized masters outside combo didn't really need all five colors, anyway.
Mirrodin's Core is excellent in theory, since it always makes mana and the default colorless greatly mitigates the drawback. The problem is that mana curves are so tight in Type I that I doubt any deck that needs this kind of land can always expect to be able to skip an early turn before getting colored mana.
The other indestructibles just cost too much, so what about the land? Some colorless lands with minor abilities like Blasted Landscape did play narrow roles in old Type II decks, but is there a use for a land that won't go away for anything less than an extremely well-timed Balance?
Well, not much, considering it'll go away even for an ill-timed Smokestack. A mediocre hedge against land destruction isn't that much a priority compared to squirming out of those little artifact mana locks these days.
Sadly, one power means these take twice as long to win compared to the classic Mishra's Factory. Moreover, Mishra's name is a bit more intimidating than hints of a swarm of fireflies.
Well, that's it for this week. Come back next time for a wrap-up with the instants.
May your theories count properly, or whatever Rosewater would try to say.
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
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University of the Philippines, College of Law
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