Author Archives: Chris Lansdell

JundWave

Ever since we brewed a Genesis Wave deck on episode 33 of Horde of Notions, there’s been a lot of interest in the list from listeners of the show. It’s tremendous fun to play, it’s explosive as hell and even if you don’t draw a Genesis Wave you’re still on the mono-Titans plan. All the ramp means you are more often than not dropping a Titan on turn 4, and then every topdeck is a potential nightmare for your opponent.

Here’s the list, with explanations of each choice.

1 Pristine Talisman – I’m not sure this needs to be in the deck. The life gain rarely matters and this might just be better as another Manalith.
4 Primeval Titan – Go on, pretend you’re surprised. Every ramp deck should be running this card, at least 3 and probably 4 in most cases.
3 Manalith – One of two maligned cards in the deck. Seriously, you need this. It ramps you AND lets you use it the turn you play it, plus it helps with the three-colour manabase without limits on usage.
3 Dawntreader Elk – Speed bump that ramps you. Be careful when you use it as it enables Morbid. Helpful against attacking Obliterators.
2 Massacre Wurm – A necessary evil. If you Wave into it, it helps clear the way of Spirit tokens and blockers. If you hard cast it, it keeps you alive.
2 Solemn Simulacrum – I would try up to 4, but normally by the time I can cast the second I would rather be casting a Titan. Good speed bump though.
4 Birds of Paradise – If there were a non-creature 1cc ramp spell, I would play it. Relying on this in a world of Tragic Slip, Gut Shot, Vapor Snag and Galvanic Blast is perilous to say the least. Still, there’s no better choice right now.
1 Shrine of Boundless Growth – People have stopped reading when they see this. Don’t sleep on this card. You drop it turn 2 or 3 and it beats a Mana Leak on your GWave by itself. I might play a second but any more would be wrong for sure.
2 Grave Titan – A case of it being better than any other creature option in these three colours, and it’s just stupid with Urabrask off a Wave.
3 Urabrask, the Hidden – Absolutely vital to the deck, especially against sorcery-speed sweepers. You can board this out against decks without them for more beef, or for like a Karn maybe. The only thing better than Waving into 3 Titans is Waving into 3 hasty Titans. Well, maybe Waving into 4…
4 Genesis Wave – You might actually be able to get away with 3 in the deck. Risky though.
4 Sphere of the Suns – I want Fellwar Stone back 🙁
3 Inferno Titan – The best Titan when you have Urabrask. Just a beating.

1 Inkmoth Nexus – Plan C, in case something goes wrong (waving into nothing, for example).
1 Kessig Wolf Run – See Inkmoth.
5 Forest
3 Mountain
1 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Copperline Gorge
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Dragonskull Summit

 

The mana base is solid, I have only had issues with BBB for Wurm once or twice. Sideboard needs something to answer heavy permission (likely Autumn’s Veil), a plan in case you want to side out of GWave (Garruk 3.0 or Karn seem fine, even 2.0 would work), more beef against decks without sweepers (extra Titans probably), potentially Acidic Slime for Pod (which has been a rough matchup) and maybe Markov Warlord (against Obliterator, which is BAD for you) or Warstorm Surge.

 

So how does it play? Against Delver they basically have to either counter your ramp and race you or counter your beef and hope you die before you run out. Neither plan is particularly good for them. Remember many Delver decks are only running 3-4 counters main. Post-board they likely bring in Dissipate and maybe Flashfreeze, so you need either the Autumn’s Veil plan or the planeswalker one. Massacre Wurm is a bomb against the non-anthem versions of the deck, so never cut those. Urabrask however is a liability as it WILL be Vapor Snagged after the Wave. If you have the Veil then that’s not a concern, but consider siding him out.

 

Wolf Run needs a nut draw to compete. You’re both ramping in the early turns but their turn 4 or 5 Titan looks really bad next to your turn 5 or 6 Genesis Wave. Slagstorm can be an annoyance if you don’t play out your Elks with mana open, but otherwise you just shrug and go off. The white version on the other hand can be a real problem. Gideon Jura can ruin your day, especially if they have Day of Judgement in hand. Elesh Norn is also not something you want to see. That’s a bad matchup for you and I’m still trying to figure out how to beat it, though it probably involves Karn.

 

Zombies can be bad if they get a fast start. The nine-power-attacking-turn-three draw is tough for any deck to handle, and we’re not exempt from that. It’s made worse by the fact that a Massacre Wurm will wipe their board…and deal 3 to you in the process. Obliterator can also be nasty, though sometimes your Wave will be good enough to just attack on through it. Karn, Warstorm Surge and Markov Warlord are all options here, as well as playing out Urabrask before they can drop Obliterator, then Waving the turn after they do.

 

Humans needs anthems to have a hope. Champion into Gather is a tough start but fortunately it doesn’t have trample. Without anthems your Massacre Wurm is just that – a Massacre. Acidic Slime is a must out of the board, as is the fourth Inferno Titan.

 

That Might Not Work…

Jackie Lee wrote an excellent article today. I wish she hadn’t written it for many reasons, but it was very good. She supported her position with facts, anecdotal evidence, stats and human psychology, and she laid it out well. I’m not her editor though, and I’m sure she’ll get ample praise for the column both because it’s good and because it “needed to be said.”

Did it, though? In my cubicle I am somewhat sheltered from the luxuries of cell reception, so I haven’t been able to follow the Twitter furore properly. While on my lunch break I did see at least one (entirely unsurprising) person talk about the onslaught of “white knights” to defend Jackie and her article, though why either should need that is beyond me. Jackie is more than capable of defending herself, if in fact she feels a need to do so, and the article stands on its own. My fear though is that all this article will do is exacerbate what is already a serious issue.

I’d venture that some people reading this have heard of Gary Quach. He was recently banned by the DCI for 6 months for what can only be described as hate speech against women in the SCG chat feed during GP Salt Lake City. This has apparently been going on for a long time but was only recently brought to the attention of Wizards and the DCI. How he got 6 months for hate-fuelled disgusting garbage when Gerald Freas got 18 for poorly-done “humour” with little to no malicious intent is a topic for another time and place. The problem is that Quach is far from alone on the internet or indeed in the Magic community. He and his ilk will read Jackie’s article…and either laugh it off or start behaving even worse than they do now. Bigotry is born of ignorance but ignorance is bliss and many people will refuse to leave that state of mind. The worst elements of our community (and I am loathe to include them in that group) are the ones who need to read this most…and they won’t care.

Others will read it and nod their heads sagely, agreeing with every word, praising Jackie for her courage and lucidity and calm in the face of such extreme adversity. Many members of that group will be male and will apologise on behalf of the gender for the behaviour of a few, either out of some desire to score points with a member of the opposite sex or a genuine distress at the poor behaviour of others. Some will even go so far as to call out and deride those who dare to disagree with anything Jackie says and suggest that they are in fact part of the problem being described.

Then there’s the majority, the ones who will read the article and think that it’s true, but don’t think it affects them. These are the people Jackie should be trying to reach, because in all likelihood it DOES affect them. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me when I say that the vast majority of people playing this game are men. Many of them have called people “bitch” or referred to a particularly dominant victory as “rape.” Some even get offended that people find this offensive. I really admire Jackie’s question: Why do you use these terms? Of course most people won’t have an acceptable answer to that, and they’ll go on using it just as they use “gay” to describe something negative or “owned” to describe a rousing victory in another fashion. More on that later.

Jackie’s points, while well-researched and supported, work only in an idealist society. Alas, we don’t even LIVE in one, let alone play in one. The ONLY way that women will become accepted as commonplace in the competitive Magic scene is for them to BE commonplace there. I wish this weren’t the case but Jackie’s own story about the etymology of “bitch” is a good illustration here. Women won the right to vote and then had to put up with vicious verbal backlash for years thereafter. We are seeing the emergence of female pros in Magic and unfortunately it will take time for that to be accepted by The Great Unwashed, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton would no doubt refer to them.

One thing Jackie did not address is how the treatment of women in Magic seems to be an extension of the treatment they receive in the internet community at large. The Mos Eisley of the internet, known as 4chan, is famous for this. I could go on for hours about the psychological reasons behind the misogyny displayed by the socially maladjusted denizens of the internet, but it’s been done time and time again. There is a lot of overlap between Magic players and internet junkies, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. Not every “nethead” is a raging bigot, far from it. The large overlap between Magic and the web though makes it inevitable that some of this negative element will bleed into our community, and we all know the effect that a bad apple has on the bunch.

I’ve been called a “white knight” more times than I can count. It’s rather offensive actually, this idea that defending someone’s position is a bad thing and worthy of derision. Outside of Magic I do a lot of human rights and equal opportunities work. With all that said, I have on more than one occasion called something a bitch. I’ve joked with female friends in ways that Jackie in her article calls damaging. That makes me, by her definition, a contributing factor. That comes as something of a shock to me. In Canada the Aboriginal peoples have had a very tough time of it. One of my good friends, who is actively involved with his people and represents Aboriginal issues on a national stage, has a saying: “If you want to help me and my people, ask me how. Don’t just do.” So I have asked, and I’ve been told simply that I should treat female players as I do male players. I don’t get that impression from Jackie’s article.

The thing is, female players are NOT just like male players. I’m not talking about the obvious biological differences, but instead the number of them to be found at any given tournament. One of my ex-girlfriends once stopped by a PTQ to drop something off to a friend of mine so he could bring it over to me. She walked into this room on a university campus and said she instantly felt 120 sets of eyes on her. She was the only woman there. When a man succeeds at such an event, there is fanfare for his achievement. “Bravo! You have done something few have done before you!” When a WOMAN succeeds, it’s my belief that there should be MORE fanfare. Yes it puts them more in the spotlight, but we WANT that. One of the key tenets of equal opportunities is proportional representation. We may never reach that in competitive Magic but we can certainly do better than we are now, and touting every success of a woman is paramount to that taking place.

I really hope I am wrong about this. I’ll be doing a podcast with Jackie and the crew from RamenCast in the near future, and I look forward to having a discussion about it without character limits and such getting in the way. Those of us who don’t have an irrational fear of losing to a girl or mommy issues would all love to see more women playing the game at the highest level, and I for one can’t wait for the time when the topic isn’t a topic any more. Alas, we’re not close to being there yet. Pointing out all the little things that people do that are intimidating or distasteful to women is, in my mind, more likely to cause it to increase than decrease.

Apologies that this entry sounds so jumbled. I’m really just trying to get everything into words and published while the issue is still at the forefront of the collective conscience. I’ve already been asked what the solution is, and to be honest I think the best one is a reactionary approach. Tout the successes, call out the bigots and encourage the up-and-comers. Any community that wants to diversify has to be welcoming to the new elements, but invariably there will be the “there goes the neighbourhood” crowd whose impact needs to be minimised and whose conduct should be publicly shamed. “A Field Guide to Interacting With Female Magic Players” just isn’t going to do anyone any good, I fear.

Now, as an aside and without meaning to detract from Jackie’s article or the issue at hand…how many black people have made a GP or PT top 8? I count 4: Rashad Miller, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, David Williams and Cedric Phillips. They’ve done better than women (I believe all 4 have PT top 8s, though I could be wrong on that) but the number is the same as far as I can determine. Are black people subject to the same degree of bigotry in Magic circles as women are? I don’t think so, no. But how many of you have used the word “owned” to suggest domination? Were you aware of the origins of THAT particular word in that sense? Slavery, I’m afraid. Very rarely though will anyone chastise you for its use. If we’re going to start watching when we say “rape” (which I wholeheartedly agree is unpleasant) and “bitch” (which might be taking it a little far, but if it offends then so be it), perhaps we need to stop saying “owned” as well. While we’re at it, let’s dump “gay” too, huh?

Tagged , , , , ,

Things I’ve Learned

 

Believe it or not, people actually come to me for advice on decks. I know right? Took me by surprise too. Because I’ve been there and because I know how hard it is to find someone to be helpful and provide constructive criticism, I always try to help out with advice when I can. People like Conley Woods, Mike Flores, Jesse “Smi77y” Smith and Patrick Chapin have provided me with so much knowledge, both directly and indirectly, that I feel like it’s my duty to pass it on. Kind of like that book in American Pie, y’know?

 

Deckbuilding is hard. No no, bear with me. When I say that, I mean building your OWN deck is hard. Physically collecting the cards to play the latest Gerry Thompson Delver version is really rather easy. I’m not about to turn this into the age-old netdecking vs brewing argument (my stance on that has changed DRASTICALLY over the last 6 months anyway,) but the fact remains that many people prefer to build something that is uniquely them. And bravo! I think that part of the learning process of this game requires us to go through that stage, where we explore our own ideas and stoutly reject anything else. For some players it is drastically shorter than others, but like learning to ride a bike it will eventually come to most people who want it.

 

Like a parent watching his first child grow up, I often see the same mistakes I used to make running through the decklists I receive, and I knowingly shake my head with a wry grin. My mother always told me that when I had kids of my own, I would find myself saying the same things to them that she was saying to me. Of course I was an adolescent and I knew better, so I scoffed at this obviously ludicrous assertion. I was never going to be as strict, as stuffy and as unfair as MY mother! (As an aside, I had the least strict and stuffy mother of anyone I know.)She was right, of course. Certain life lessons have to be taught, and the way you were taught them tends to be the way you pass them on. With that in mind, and with the hope that people who listen to my podcasts will read this and find some value in it, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.

 

Lesson One: What are you doing with your mana?

Magic is a logic problem mixed with a resource management game. Cards in hand, cards in your library, permanents and mana are your resources, and in general the person who makes the best use of them will win. Each player can play one land a turn and draw one card a turn. If you have some way to bend or break those building-block rules of the game, you can put yourself ahead.

 

With mana though, it is not enough to just have more of it available. What matters most is what you DO with that mana. Let’s illustrate with an example. Josh is trying to build a WBG Tokens deck. He puts many powerful cards: Doomed Traveler, Blade Splicer, Gather the Townsfolk, Intangible Virtue, Lingering Souls. At the four-mana slot, he includes Parallel Lives. Doubling the tokens he can get seems like a great plan to him, and he’s seen the card in action doing some very powerful things in both Limited and EDH. Josh takes his deck to FNM, and Josh loses. A lot.

 

Parallel Lives is a skill-testing card. The effect it has is undoubtedly a powerful one, but is it worth the cost? I don’t just mean 3G, which is actually quite good for the effect. I mean the opportunity cost, a term I got from Limited Resources (if you’re not listening to that podcast, you are doing it very wrong). Parallel Lives occupies a spot in your deck and a slot on your mana curve. Optimally you want it in play as early as possible, which means you are likely tapping out to play it. It then has no effect on the board until you untap and draw a card. That gives your opponent a whole turn to deal with it with sorcery-speed effects, basically invalidating your entire turn and making you “waste” four mana. It also encourages bad play, as you will be tempted to hold back your token generators until you have this card in play.

 

Compare this with casting Garruk Relentless. At the same mana cost you can instantly impact the board, either by creating a token or killing an opposing creature. If your opponent then untaps and deals with your Garruk, you have still managed to impact the board. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks for you. But at least your investment of 4 mana yielded some return. This is even more important at four mana, which for most decks running 23-25 lands is the “breaking point” at which you stop expecting your mana growth to match your turn number. Four mana on turn 4 is reasonable, 5 on turn 5 is less likely.

 

It’s a fundamental truth that the power of your spells increases with the mana cost, at least when it comes to tournament-quality cards. When building your decks, take that into account. Figure out what turns are your key turns, and by what turn you can expect to have “critical mass” of mana. Then make sure that the things you are doing with that mana are the most powerful things you CAN do for the deck you are building. Don’t put yourself in a position to get blown out by a commonly-played removal spell that wrecks your whole strategy if there are better options.

 

Lesson Two: Don’t be a slave to your theme

For perhaps the first time since the Lorwyn block, we have a Standard environment in which more than one tribal deck is viable. Both Spirits and Zombies have placed highly at professional-level events, with Zombies going undefeated through a Grand Prix. Human’s has been a perpetually strong archetype since Innistrad came out. It’s only a matter of time before Werewolves becomes a deck, and Vampires are pretty strong in an unexpecting meta.

 

There’s an inherent trap in building a deck around a tribe, a theme or a mechanic: including cards just because they fit the theme, or excluding cards because they don’t. Almost without fail, that’s wrong. Delver of Secrets is not a Spirit, nor does it transform into one. How many Spirit decks are NOT playing four of them? Fume Spitter and Phyrexian Obliterator aren’t Zombies either, but they are both close to ubiquitous in the Zombie deck.

 

When building a deck to be competitive, goal number 1 should ALWAYS be to include the best cards that do what your deck wants to do. If you start off with the idea that “I want to abuse the fact that most Spirits have flying, so making them big and giving them hexproof seems good,” then you want to figure out first of all how many of your cards are going to be dedicated to that goal. Thirty-seven spirits and 23 land will win you precisely zero events. Cards like Lingering Souls and Midnight Haunting are very powerful, and they make Spirits. Drogskul Captain buffs them. Great, we have a start. Lantern Spirit is hard to kill anyway, but for one less mana I can copy my Captain AND buff it at the same time. Phantasmal Image dies when it is targeted BUT…it’s hexproof now. Awesome, we have a base. This is where most people fall into the trap. It’s really easy to throw in things like Lantern Spirit to dodge sweepers, Niblis of the Breath to tap down Titans, Battleground Geist to give your dudes even more of a boost. It’s also probably not as good as adding Snapcaster Mage, Delver of Secrets and Mana Leak. “Spirits” is just a name for the deck, don’t let it lure you down the path of tribal troubles.

 

There are no prizes for keeping your deck on theme. There are, however, prizes for playing good cards. If you can do both, fabulous! Ask yourself two key questions: Why am I playing this card? Is there another one that does a similar thing? If your answer to the first starts with “because it fits the theme” and the second answer is “yes, and it costs less” or “yes, and it does it better” then chances are you should change it. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a great starting point. This is a hard habit to break but once you do, you’ll notice a major jump in the quality of your decks.

 

Lesson Three: Nine out of ten decks built by the best SUCK.

That’s a direct quote from Patrick Chapin in the song “Brewmaster’s Delight.” Live by it. If you ask Mike Flores, he’ll tell you it’s more like 95 out of 100. For us mortals, we can expect that number to be in the 99th percentile. That deck you thought of with the Necrotic Ooze/Grimgrin/Bloodline Keeper combo? The professional brewers all thought of it too. There’s a reason they are making money on the Pro Tour and we’re aspiring to win a PTQ: they’re better at this than we are. They find the combos faster and they test them religiously. The thing that makes them better is that they know when to let an idea go.

 

You see, they built the same deck you did. They included all the same cards, and probably other ones you haven’t considered. They probably built a better mana base. When it didn’t win consistently, they discarded it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, far from it. As good as these players are, they are fallible human beings. The key here lies in recognizing when a deck idea just isn’t good enough, and subsequently in putting it down and walking away.

 

I firmly believe that, for regular players like you and me, any idea is worth testing. If after a few rounds of tweaking you’re STILL losing, it’s time to let it go. You found one of the 99 bad ideas that are hiding the good one. This isn’t a failure! It’s a learning experience. Whatever you do, don’t tear up your notes and never think of it again. A deck that is two turns too slow right now might be three turns faster when a new set comes out or when rotation happens. It’s just not the right time for your idea. If you aspire to be better at deckbuilding, this is very hard to do. Your deck is your baby, this is your idea and you don’t want to let it go. I understand. I’ve been there so, so many times. It was the hardest thing I had to learn and I still struggle with it. The thing is, your time can better be spent elsewhere. MOVE ALONG.

 

This also applies to card choice within a deck. Very often you will come up with an idea based on a couple of cards and the idea will work. But one of the cards that initially led you down this path just isn’t pulling its weight. No matter how much you love the card in a vacuum, you have to cut it. Magic, like nature, abhors a vacuum and you can’t make card choices based on how you wish they played out. If you draw a card on turn 3, turn 9 and turn 12 and ALWAYS wish it was something else…it should be something else.

 

Lesson Four: Never play a bad something else

Every now and then a brewer hits upon an idea that is similar to a deck being played at what the cool kids call “tier 1” level. Rather than take this as a good sign, the nascent brewer will often fight tooth and nail to keep his version intact simply because it is his. Alas, it is very rarely as good. If you find yourself building a green/white ramp deck that aims to get to 7 mana and then cast Chancellor of the Tangle or Vorinclex, you’re guilty of this. You’re doing the same thing early on as a Wolf Run deck, but your end game is nowhere near as powerful.

 

It’s a truism, but good ideas are successful because they are good. Sometimes there is a good reason to deviate from a tournament-winning decklist: the metagame has evolved, or testing shows the changes actually improve the deck. Wolf Run White is probably a better deck than the straight green-red version, for example. But if you’re on the ramp plan I mentioned above, then you’re just playing a bad version of something else.

 

Self-assessment is not an easy thing. Self-censure even less so. Nobody ever said this would be easy either. If it was people like Chapin wouldn’t be paid to write articles on their decks, because everyone could do it. Recognising that your idea is the watered-down Pepsi and the GP-winning deck is the canned Dr. Pepper is the first step to figuring out WHY your deck isn’t good enough. Once you know the why, fixing the problem gets a lot easier.

Final Lesson: LISTEN.

Certain elements of the Magic community have little to no respect for amateur brewers. If you’re a brewer you may have wondered why that is. It’s because by and large, we are the most stubborn, hard-headed bunch of ingrates that ever added mana to their pool. We’ll come up with an idea, we’ll send it far and wide and put it on our blog and beg people we respect to take a look at it…then we ignore everything they tell us. As my good friend and podcast host Chewie would say…HEY DUMMY.

 

Why did you send your list to me, to Smitty, to Jack, to anyone? Were you hoping for endorsement, or advice? If it’s the former, you’re not likely to get that. Anybody who enjoys building decks is going to have feedback to offer on your list, and if they don’t it’s likely because it’s just too bad for them to bother with. Don’t take this as an insult or an affront to your creative genius. Take it the way it is intended: as a potential lesson. You might already have tried the cards being suggested and found that they don’t work, but bear in mind that any advice you get is likely being provided in a vacuum. If you haven’t tried the suggestions, why are you dismissing them? Even if the person offering the advice is not a player you particularly respect, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a good idea.

 

All feedback is valuable, even that feedback you get and do not action. In fact some would say that type of feedback is MORE valuable because it can provide a sort of “save point” you can return to if your choice of paths does not work out. When I was playing GB Birthing Pod I steadfastly ignored any and all suggestions to play Strangleroot Geist because it wasn’t my idea, I didn’t think it would be good and I couldn’t see a reason to try it. Then I tried it, and it WAS good. Really good. I still don’t think it’s a four-of like some people were saying, but it definitely has a place in the deck. The only reason I didn’t know that before was a stubborn refusal to just…LISTEN.

 

 

Although nothing in this article will guarantee you success at any tournament, it will at least remove one obstacle from the road to success: deck construction. You will never catch me suggesting that you should blindly take someone else’s exact 75 to a tournament, but before you can run you have to learn to walk. Play other people’s decks, learn what makes them good and what weaknesses they have, THEN make them your own.

Dreamcrushed

I failed.

I’m not used to typing those words, or saying them for that matter. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I put my all into everything that I do, and that failing is just not an option. This single-minded doggedness has been both a blessing and a curse: it has got me my job and my home, but it often means I won’t listen to advice when I get an idea in my head, as that on some level translates to a failure to succeed on my own.

When the changes to Organized Play made Planeswalker Points the be-all, end-all for Magic players everywhere, I set my sights on qualifying for SOMETHING. Sure a Pro Tour was probably out of the question, but Canadian Nationals wasn’t…was it? Well, maybe. But with all the supplemental changes, I ended up with a clearly-defined goal: 300 points from December 26 to April 1, and I would qualify for Canada’s World Magic Cup Qualifiers (WMCQ). Winning one of those seemed unlikely at best, but it was a goal and a chance to prove that I belonged with the best of Canada’s Magic players, despite living in an isolated part of the country.

I knew I was in tough. With a very low likelihood of any events carrying a multiplier, I would need roughly 23 points a week which is about 7 match wins in 2 events. Every 3 additional events let me lose an additional match, but given the fact that our FNMs are always 4 rounds and our Saturday drafts always 3 rounds, it was going to be a very, VERY tough assignment. Nothing new to me! Tough assignments make it all that much sweeter when you complete them.

My quest was aided by the opening of Midgard Gaming, a second LGS that would allow me to play 4 times a week should I be so inclined. Five free points a week would mean I only needed 6 match wins from 4 events…not too hard, right? Plus there was a Game Day in the season, meaning a chance at double points. Plus a prerelease and release, which would give me multiple events in a single day. Yeah, this was looking better and better!

I’d overlooked a couple of things though. One of those was my travel schedule, which is not light. Sure I can play Magic while on the road but it’s not always possible or practical, and I have yet to figure out how to sanction an event on a plane. I’d estimate that flying cost me 3-5 events over the course of the season.

The second thing I overlooked was the biggest hurdle: I don’t play the best deck often enough. You’ll never catch me saying that rogue decks and brewing are bad, but when you’re in a race against the calendar and points are your number one priority, perhaps you shouldn’t be taking TurboFog to Game Day. Yes, I really did that. I also played Big Red Heretic’s Punishment at FNM and went 0-4 one week. I knew the decks weren’t great going in BUT I wanted to play them, and I got a lot of enjoyment out of doing so…briefly. It’s like the guy on a diet who buys a big bag of potato chips and promptly eats the whole thing, his brain screaming at him throughout that he should not be doing this. Shut up brain, I want yummy synthetic-bacon-flavoured deep-fried potato slivers! I don’t care that they’re bad for me, I love them!

Sadly, the losses piled on like the fat would have from those delicious, delicious bacon potato chips. Through sheer volume, (I guess) play skill and refusal to stop trying, I was still within striking distance…with luck and a prevailing wind. With one week left in the season we had finally managed to schedule a Grand Prix Trial (GPT), bringing with it a 3x multiplier. I was in the top 5 in the province at this point and a good showing at the (likely) 6-round event would mean that a couple of tournaments in the final week would push me over the finish line – just. I started looking in to flights to Montreal in April and Toronto in June, the two closest WMCQs geographically speaking. I was sitting on 235 points, and going 4-2 at the GPT would net me 45 of the 65 points I needed even if I didn’t make top 8. Twenty points in a week was nothing, especially if I could run a few 8-man grinders on the last day to help people qualify.

Again, I was overlooking something: a GPT requires a sanctioned judge, of which there are 3 in town. Neither of the other two judges was in contention for a WMCQ spot, so I thought I could convince one or both of them to judge the event and let me have my shot at…well, not greatness but respectability. I could go to the mainland and proudly wave the Newfoundland flag, showing that we ARE just as good as the Ontario and Quebec and Alberta players…we just don’t have the opportunities to show it. A fine plan, presuming the judges were amenable.

And, you know, that they show up.

Whatever else I regret, whatever else upsets me about my failure to reach 300 points, I do NOT regret judging that event. I place my role as a judge and community organiser far, FAR above my role as a player. They can play Magic without me, I can’t judge without them. One player went past the 300 mark due to the GPT (shout out to Extra Balls!), and that alone made it worthwhile. That we also got our store to Advanced WPN level and that the players immensely enjoyed the event just added to the satisfaction I got from watching and judging Magic all day. Besides, with some dedication and some winning on my part, it wasn’t over JUST yet. I had 7 days to get 65 points.

It WAS over, though. A 3-1 finish at FNM was a fine start, but a snowstorm on Saturday and a lack of midweek Magic (couldn’t get 8 people together) crushed the dream nicely. Sunday’s draft was never going to be enough, and with nobody else having the desire to grind until midnight there was just no way I was qualifying for a Qualifier. When it finally sunk in that I had failed, I was crushed. My good friends Mark and Ken tried to console me, to little avail. Even the fact that it was WrestleMania night wasn’t shaking the devastating feeling that I just wasn’t good enough. Every friendly rib from Jay Boosh and Nina, every sigh of frustration from Smitty and Justin Richardson, suddenly came back to me in a whole different light: am I just bad? Bad at Magic, bad at deckbuilding, bad at dedicating myself to a goal, bad at listening?

Several bottles of cider and a 4-hour pay per view event later, I came to one inescapable conclusion: the errors were all mine, and they were all fixable. I clearly had the ability to win games of Magic. That I gained over 180 of my 250 points in the last 6 weeks of the season suggests that my deck assessment skills are improving. I’m on the right track. Alas, that track is a very long one, and the 2013 WMCQs seem a long, long way away. I have to balance my commitment to my community with my desire to succeed on a personal level, and I will not sacrifice the former for the latter. We don’t know what the qualification standard will be for next year yet, but I’m saying here and now that it does not matter.

I’m crushing it. I’ll be there next year, representing this little province and our small but tight community. And I’ll be bringing half of them with me. Look out, Magic world. Newfoundland is coming, and we’re coming strong. And me? I’m leading. Failing again is not an option.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

UPDATED: GP Vancouver Raffle

MAJOR UPDATE! Scroll down to the prize list to see the INCREDIBLE new prizes on offer!

For those who don’t know, I am trying to get to GP Vancouver in June. Not to play necessarily, but to judge (if approved). When I got certified as a judge it was mainly to allow me to give back to the community in another way. I can’t travel to overseas GPs so it’s Canada or nothing for me.

As Vancouver is just about as far away from Mount Pearl as it is physically possible to get while remaining in Canada, I need some help. Hopefully you, the MtG community and my friends, can provide that help. Any amount helps, as the target is a large one: $1,000 by the end of May. Can you help? If you want to help me help the community, donations can be sent via PayPal to chris.lansdell@nl.rogers.com . Every $5 you donate gets you 5 entries to the raffle. Donate as little or as much as you can. In the event that more is raised than I need to get me to Vancouver, or that I do not raise enough to get me there, the excess will be contributed to Gamers Helping Gamers, the charity being set up by Jon Finkel and his friends.

Thanks in advance, everyone.

P.S. If you can also donate prizes, email me.

Courtesy of @dayn98, an Unlimited Mox Emerald!!!
Courtesy of Luis “Bardiche” Acosta aka @auranalchemist , a foil Sorin, Lord of Innistrad!!
Courtesy of Jonathan Medina and the fine folk at Legit MtG, a playset of promo Gravecrawlers!!
Courtesy of Amanda Stevens (@sagenosis), a playset of Game Day Promo Strangleroot Geists!
Judge foil Doubling Season
Judge foil Goblin Welder
Courtesy of Jay Boosh, a large selection of foil basic lands
Courtesy of Justin Richardson, a playset of altered Squadron Hawks
Courtesy of Christine Sprankle aka Elspeth, a signed Elspeth Tirel
Courtesy of Don “The Behoover” Wiggins of Don’s Magic and Sundry, a pair of French Renaissance boosters
Courtesy of Limited Gaming, a pair of Planechase Zombie Empire Decks!
Courtesy of Jack LaCroix, a sweet playmat!
Courtesy of Hairy Tarantula in Toronto, a sealed Premium Deck Series: Graveborn!
Courtesy of Derfington, an altered card to be determined!
Courtesy of Andy from CommanderCast, a Savra EDH deck. The WHOLE DECK. There are some pricy cards in this one folks!
Courtesy of Ertai’s Lament, an Innistrad Intro Pack and a draft set of Dark Ascension!
Courtesy of Dave Astels, a framed and signed print of Ashenmoor Gouger by Matt Cavotta!

Standard Brew: BG Birthing Pod

One of the major afflictions I have when it comes to Magic is an addiction to brewing. Good ol’ Smitty seems to suffer from the same thing. No matter how much success I have with a given deck, I always feel like I should be building a new one because I thought of or heard about or saw another cool idea. Then I lose a lot and get down on myself and start brewing again. Go go vicious cycle! Gradually I have learned that success means you did it right, which means you can stop brewing and start tweaking. Given the recent success this BG Pod deck has had, I think I am in that phase now. There’s also a lot to be said about familiarity with your deck and what it can and cannot do.

I am far from a great Magic player. I am good in theory, and when watching matches I see way more than I do when playing, but when the cards are actually in my hand I rush and cannot force myself to think things through for some reason. I also tilt way too easily. With that said, I have played this deck at 5 events and lost one match at each. In testing it does exceedingly well. It’s not perfect and even I can see a couple of slots that are underperforming, but there are no matchups that are autolose. I never feel like the underdog when I sit down with it and it is capable of some very, VERY unfair things. Dark Ascension essentially pushed the deck from “good” to “scary.”

Last time I played it, I found the Phyrexian Rager and the Grave Titan came out A LOT. There are few matchups where I can see me wanting to keep the Rager in, but a lack of good 3-drops means that right now it stays in the main deck. Against decks with artifacts and/or enchantments to remove, Replica and/or Corrupter come in. I can’t see running the second Replica main as it does nothing on offense, and Corrupter can be a liability. Can we please have Civic Wayfinder back in Standard?

Titan is good against Vapor Snag but I often wanted Massacre Wurm more, and having a second to fetch made more sense. Entomber Exarch never really did much for me, and might end up being Phyrexian Obliterator again. Now, if only I can fit a Prey Upon in here…

The board needs more Ratchet Bomb and more Perilous Myr. Myr is VERY good against Mirran Crusader and also against werewolves, especially Huntmaster of the Fells. With the amount of spot removal decreasing, Precursor Golem might also be a possibility in the board.

Carnifex Demon is very, very good right now. Podding a Vorapede into it and then activating it once resets the undying on your Vorapede, which means you can then turn it into a Wurmcoil Engine. Carnifex also loves blocking Inkmoth Nexus. Two Sheoldred might be too many, I don’t know that the deck even needs a seven. One is probably fine though, if you untap with it you just don’t lose.

Glissa is really good in this deck with all the utility artifacts. She’s the reason you’d run Precursor, she makes blocking anything with Wurmcoil into a profitable venture and turns Ratchet Bomb or Perilous Myr into machine guns. Oh, and Geralf’s Messenger is nuts. You haven’t lived until you Pod Messenger into Metamorph copying Messenger. Oh yeah, and Metamorph is pretty good with Glissa too.

How many of you are scoffing at Praetor’s Grasp right now? I get that a lot. Well let’s look at what my deck can do with it. Against ramp, it steals a Primeval Titan. It can also grab anything from Mono Green. Against the big control decks I can steal Karn. [/mtg_card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/mtg_card] anywhere? MINE. A lot of people have said that Memoricide is just better but I don’t agree. I have literally never lost a game in which I resolved Grasp. I’ve even stolen a Mana Leak to counter Life’s Finale. It’s not the greatest card ever but it DOES swing games and I cannot recommend it enough.

There are a couple of things I’m considering. One would be a main deck Traveller’s Amulet for some fixing, since it plays well with Glissa. Also thinking or boarding into Garruk Relentless against Grafdigger’s Cage, taking out the Pods. I haven’t had to play against Cage yet but siding Pod out when artifact hate comes in might be worthwhile. Garruk does a similar thing to Pod when he flips and has the added benefit of breaking ground stalls.

I love almost every deck I’ve played and done well with, but this feels better than any of them. It’s definitely worth a run at an FNM where people are not expecting it, you’ll be surprised just how powerful it is.

Here’s the list as it stands:

BG Robot Pod

Creatures (26)
Birds of Paradise
Perilous Myr
Viridian Emissary
Geralf’s Messenger
Glissa, the Traitor
Phryexian Rager
Sylvok Replica
Phyrexian Metamorph
Skinrender
Entomber Exarch
Acidic Slime
Vorapede
Massacre Wurm
Grave Titan
Wurmcoil Engine
Carnifex Demon
Sheoldred, the Whispering One

Spells (10)
Doom Blade
Ratchet Bomb
Beast Within
Birthing Pod
Curse of Death’s Hold

Land: (24)
Woodland Cemetery
Ghost Quarter
Forest
Swamp
Sideboard: (15)
Curse of Death’s Hold
Naturalize
Nihil Spellbomb
Despise
Go for the Throat
Praetor’s Grasp
Massacre Wurm
Sylvok Replica
Viridian Corrupter
Acidic Slime

 

Why I Do What I Do

Hey there. I’m Chris. You might know me from Twitter (@lansdellicious), from my articles on ManaDeprived and the WrongWayGoBack network or from the large number of podcasts on which I’ve appeared. If that’s how you know me, then you likely consider me loud, opinionated, occasionally crude, maybe obnoxious and definitely a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Whatever your thoughts or opinion, I very much doubt that you would say I do not love this game. And about a year ago you wouldn’t have recognised me at all. That was before Magic: the Gathering saved my life.

It’s a funny thing to think of, really: a grown man of thirty-three years crediting a collectible card game with saving his life. I mean, it’s just a game right? It’s not like I have some Chapinesque story of making it to the Pro Tour and the World championships and revolutionising the term “Magic community” after being incarcerated. I didn’t secure my dream job with Wizards having slaved away at other companies designing B-list games. I didn’t go from pillar of the community to R&D intern. I’m just a random durdle who’s not even particularly GOOD at Magic. How on earth could it have saved my life?

You’d need a fair amount of back story to understand that. I’ve lived a pretty crazy life and I’ve often been told I should write a book about it. I’ve lived in 3 different countries, visited many others, hurtled head-long from crisis to crisis and seen more in my life so far than many people ever will. Or so I’m told. I don’t know about all that, but I will try and give you some idea of what got me to the point where Magic did what it did.

A Little History

I got into Magic in 1997 while working at a major video game retailer in the UK. The game introduced me to the gamer culture and gave me a social circle, something which had been lacking for me since my move from Barbados to England a couple of years earlier.

In November of 2010 I left my wife of 11.5 years. I had been unhappy in the marriage for at least 3 years prior but never had the courage or the self-confidence to leave. I was also scared of the ramifications for our son and for my finances. We got married way too young (I was 20) and she had lied to me about several things, mainly that she had been accepted to Cambridge University. At the time I was living in England and she was in Newfoundland, Canada. Through the jigs and reels we realised it would be easier for me to move to Canada than the other way around, so I did. I’m a smart guy, a gamer and a sportsman, a geek and a jock. She was (and still is) a typical teenager, all into partying and spending money and being irresponsible.

She was also incredibly insecure…and not at all intelligent. That sounds very harsh but unfortunately it is also very true, as anyone who knows her will attest. I had a hard time getting her to actually discuss anything meaningful, and she would never debate me on anything. My brain slowly atrophied. Her insecurity got to the point where I wouldn’t even go for a drink with the guys because she didn’t trust me. To be more accurate, she didn’t trust her ability to hold on to me.

About 5 years ago we relocated so I could get a better job. I thought maybe it would save us, and for a while things got better. It didn’t last long. I briefly got back into Magic through MTGO, but money once again hauled me out. I was fast becoming a beaten-down shadow of myself. I had fundamentally changed to the point that I didn’t even recognise myself. On my 30th birthday (in 2009), which we spent in England, I resolved to get my identity back. I told myself that it had been 10 years and I was not going to give up on my marriage now. I made some changes and for a while I thought it was making a difference. That lasted about a month, maybe two. Then things got worse than before.

In the summer of 2010 I met someone. I’m not proud of what happened with her but she changed my life. She made me feel wanted, she encouraged me and she basically filled all the gaps in my marriage. She was married too and also unhappy. She left her husband before I left my ex and things got even more intense as she started pressuring me to leave. Eventually I found the courage to do what I should have done years before and leave my wife…and then things started to get REALLY bad.

The more freedom I had (my ex didn’t move out until January of this year) the further this new interest pulled away. A close friend of hers, about whom she had lied to me before, left his fiancée and needed somewhere to stay. She offered her couch. She swore blue blind, up and down that nothing was happening between them…and of course it was. However it was almost 2 months until I found out. Two months of us making plans for kids, spending our lives together, moving to another province and generally planning out the rest of our lives. She made me feel like I was her soul mate, and I felt she was mine. I discarded the fake identity I painted on myself to save my marriage and then became who I thought I really was. The problem is that this new identity was also a fake, although to a lesser degree. When she told me she had been sleeping with this guy all along, I was devastated. I had just built myself back up and she tore me right back down again. Only this time I was further down.

I was a mess. I hardly got off the couch, I never went anywhere but work or to buy groceries. I hardly ate. When I did try and socialise it was blatantly obvious that I was desperate for attention and it went nowhere. My family tried their best to help, but they were in England. The timing could not have been worse because the people I considered to be close friends were all going through their own crises and could not help. That didn’t stop them from leaning on me of course, which in turn sent me further into the doldrums. If you’ve never been in this state, you can’t fully appreciate just how hard it is to escape. You find a positive and try to grasp on to it, but then something minor happens that sets you back to square one. It’s really easy to sit back now and see that I was an idiot and brought it all on myself, but that seems largely irrelevant. It happened, and I was not dealing with it at all correctly.

“Depths of despair” is such a ridiculous cliché, but it fairly accurately describes where I found myself. Something had to give: either I was going to dig myself out, or I was going to become a recluse. My son, who until this point had been the lone bright spot and the only thing to which I was grasping, then decided that he didn’t want to spend time with me any more and that everything was my fault. I discovered that I actually hadn’t hit rock bottom before, because I sunk even lower. Without him in my life, what did I have? What was the point? Why was I working, why did I get out of bed every day?

Magic’s Back

Shortly before my wife and I split up, I had bought a new BlackBerry which had a native podcast app. Just for fun I had decided to see if anyone was doing Magic podcasts. The MTGCast feed came up and I discovered that yes, yes they were. Many of them. I downloaded The Eh Team due to them being Canadian, and it was the episode with Marshall and Mike Flores on it. That led to me downloading Limited Resources and Top 8 Magic, and I was hooked on podcasts from that point on. This would become essential at this stage, as it was really the only outlet I had left for mental exercise.

Despite not having played Magic for years, I still checked dailymtg.com every now and then to see what was going on in the game. I’ve heard it said that we never truly quit Magic, we jut take a break from time to time. Those breaks vary in length but sooner or later everyone comes back. I had MTGO still installed on my laptop, though it hadn’t been updated since Alara block. One night I decided to fire it up and sit through the updates (seriously, they take forever…) and see what was going on in the online world. I had just discovered CommanderCast and The Avant Card Show and so I was curious to try this “new” EDH format. Cash was tight so I built a deck with the cards I had and ventured into a game. It was like I had never left.

Those of us who play Magic every day can often take for granted how incredible this game is. On the surface it’s a collectible card game that requires you to build your own decks and play them against other people and their own decks. The vast majority of Magic players never think about the game as anything more than that, even if it is a social outlet for them. For me, at this stage in my life, Magic was a way to express my creativity. I could use these cards to build decks that were uniquely me, and then pit them against others who were (ostensibly at least) doing the same thing. Win or lose, I was doing something that nobody else could do: playing MY deck. That was huge for me at a time where I felt completely without value or importance.

I was also doing something I hadn’t had a chance to do in many years: think. My relationship with my ex was so stifling for my intellectual side that I had forgotten everything I knew about resource management, planning ahead, threat assessment, situational evaluation and calculation of odds. Magic requires all these things, and the more you play the more they develop. As you play at more competitive levels these skills go from being an advantage to a requirement to compete. I used to be very good at all of these things, but like any other skills they atrophied as I wasn’t using them. One of my traits is a desire to learn and to think and to use my head, and having been denied the opportunity to do these things for so long I took to them like rain on a parched garden. Unfortunately that metaphor proves all too appropriate as it has taken me almost a year to get close to the level at which I found myself previously.

Through podcasts and through actually playing the game, Magic was providing me with entertainment. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to spend vast chunks of time with headphones on, so the job I hated became much more bearable when I could work AND learn about Magic at the same time. At night when I got home, I would put the new knowledge to use and get my entertainment from the practical side. There are not many card games that allow you to get as much enjoyment from theorycrafting as you do from playing, but the nature of Magic and the sheer enormity of the card pool and the possibilities make it a very realistic proposition. People like Mike Flores have made a name and something of a living by doing just that. When you add the magic of Twitter to the list, I had non-stop contact with the Magic community and all the various aspects of it.

Magic was also a social outlet. Without ever having to leave my beige microfibre prison, I had contact with other people. I had conversations, arguments and fun times. Sure it’s a suboptimal way to interact with people, but it was a HUGE step up from messing around with Facebook games and feeling sorry for myself. Once again Twitter made this easier; putting me in direct contact with people I otherwise would never have known or even heard of. Interacting with others “in the real” stopped being something to fear and started feeling natural again. Even though I’ve never had a problem expressing emotions, there appears to be some sort of “guy gene” that makes us uncomfortable with appearing weak in front of our peers. Being able to converse with others without worrying about that made it easier for me to manage these issues and enabled me to reintegrate myself into something approaching a normal life. That was still a way off though, but at least I wasn’t spending all my time wallowing in self-pity. Just most of it. It was going to take time, but at that point I didn’t even think of it in that way. For the time being it was just something else to do.

The Long Road Back

Then the catalyst got added to the mixture. Bryan, Christian, Debbie and Marc from the Avant Card Show put on a contest for their podcast. Well, I say contest but it was really a thinly-veiled way to get some ideas for show topics. Not even considering the possibility that I would win, I put in a suggestion and…well, I did win. I got an email from the hosts, inviting me on their cast and explaining the way things worked. I think I was on the bus at the time I got the email, and I went directly to Circuit City to buy a headset which, incidentally, has died. I am on my third now. Wore them out I guess. I was a big fan of these guys and when the day finally came (it was a Monday…) I was nervous as hell. It was like meeting a celebrity for me. The cast was (alas, it is now defunct or at the very least on extended hiatus) focused on the casual player so I could afford to be a little wrong on some things and I didn’t actually need to have a clue about metagames and what was actually good. Thank God. Some would say I STILL don’t have a clue about that stuff.

The cast was the best 4+ hours I had spent in many months. I laughed, genuinely laughed and felt happy doing so, for the first time in weeks. I was interacting with real people and more to the point, real people who I admired. They treated me like a friend, chatted with me for a couple of hours after we’d finished recording and just generally gave me a great evening. They also infected me with two dangerous viruses: the judging virus and the podcasting virus. So yeah, blame Bryan and Debbie in particular. All their fault.

To be honest I had been considering starting my own podcast for a while before going on Avant Card. The only skill I have that I’ve never questioned is my ability with words, both written and spoken. The problem was that I was a nobody. OK I guess I still am, but less of one than I was at this point. It wasn’t until I heard Jack and Adena on a call-in episode of Monday Night Magic, both saying they were available for new podcasts, that I really put the plan into action. Noyan was recommended by Joey Pasco, and away we went!

To summarise where we are so far and to put it in chronological order, since this is getting a little Pulp Fiction-y: Marriage on the rocks. Discovered Magic podcasts. Marriage ended. Got back into Magic through MTGO. Became addicted to podcasts. Played even more Magic online. Got engrossed in the Magic Twitterverse. Won a “contest” to get on a podcast. Went on podcast, became infected with the podcast bug and the judge bug. Started a new podcast. Relationship with new partner blew up in unpleasant fashion.

This is where Magic’s value really started paying off. The worse I felt, the more I immersed myself in this new community. Like Mike Flores and Jonathan Medina before me, I am not shy about self-promotion and I know how to get my name out there. Through Twitter I wrangled my way on to some other podcasts and built a listener base for Horde of Notions. The more success I had, the better I felt. Talking to and learning from other Magic players was deepening my already profound love for the game, which naturally made me want to do more for it.

Then it was time for Nationals qualifiers. Up until this point I had been playing exclusively online, so my paper collection was anything but Standard-legal. All I had was some leftovers from various older sets and previous aborted attempts to get back into the game. However it felt like a big and important step, getting myself socially integrated with real people again, and I really wanted to see if I could have more success in paper than online. Enter Medina. I’m fairly sure I first heard of this guy on The Eh Team, and I knew his reputation. I needed a deck, I knew he could provide one. So I emailed back and forth with him a bit and settled on Elves. Caw Blade was a little out of my price range, but I knew fast green dudes had a good shot at beating Jace. The deck arrived, fully sleeved and with full-art Zendikar basics I might add, in plenty of time for the tournament.

I missed top 8, but the infection was complete. I was now back into Magic fully and wholly. The players at my local game store are, by and large, a good group of guys and I had a blast hanging out and playing the game with them. I also noticed that the community here needed help, mainly from someone who could become a judge and bring some higher-level tournaments to the area. Becoming a judge then was my obvious next step.

Even at this point I felt a sense of debt to the Magic community as a whole. I was emerging from my depression and I knew that it was the game and the people involved with it that were to thank for that. Be it on MTGO, through the MTGCast network, on Twitter or through the numerous articles I read each week, there is a real sense of camaraderie that welcomed me, by and large, with open arms. Come home, brother. You are wanted here. Becoming a judge to enable my local community to grow seemed like the best way to give back.

The woes of the Magic community in Newfoundland have been spoken about repeatedly on my various podcast appearances, so I will not go into too much detail here. We have a level 2 judge who is banned from our only WPN store, and at the time he was the only judge in town. That makes it tough to get certified. I had chatted with Bryan about the issue and he put me in touch with Charlotte, an L2 from Ontario, who helped mentor and prepare me for my test. I flew up to Toronto for Nationals (which was far from cheap) and took my test there, under the watchful eye of Charlotte. As we know, I passed.

Becoming a judge may well have helped, but I think Nationals was the final push that opened the doors and let the light back in for me. It was at the time the biggest Magic event I had attended, and it was amazing. Thanks to the incredible kindness of The Eh Team’s Scotty Mac I was able to play a few grinders, play a ton of Commander, watch my friends crash and burn and just generally hang out and immerse myself in the geek culture. I was back.

Thank You.

This is not a journey I could have made alone. I have so many people to thank for their help and support in bringing me through:

  • Bryan, Debbie and Christian from Avant Card for giving me my start, being hilarious and encouraging me to seek out judgehood.
  • KYT from ManaDeprived and The Eh Team for giving me a shot at writing, being a good friend and always supporting my ventures
  • ScottyMac of The Eh Team for being an amazing friend, inviting me on the show and just generally being one of the nicest and most generous guys you’ll ever meet.
  • Jonathan Medina for providing me the means to get into the game, for occasionally slapping some sense into me and for being a whole lot nicer than you might think he is.
  • Jay Boosh of The Eh Team and Public Enemies for being a mix of Scotty, Dr. Jeebus and Medina. Yup, that should piss him off just enough.
  • Jack LaCroix, for helping me get started in this crazy world and for pushing my profile at every opportunity. Another real, true friend who would do anything to help.
  • Tangent and Robert, erstwhile of ManaScrewed and now of Public Enemies and The Men of Magic respectively, for inviting me on their show and starting my “Lansdell is on every podcast” run
  • Bryan (again), Charlotte and the denizens of the #fljudge IRC channel for throwing countless daggers at me and preparing me for my judge tests
  • Kyle Ryc, Regional Co-ordinator for Canada, for helping me grow Magic in Newfoundland and being as passionate about community as I am
  • Trevor, Ken, Mev, Blair, Crocker, Mike, Mark and all the rest of the local players who made me feel like part of the gang pretty much from day 1
  • Marshall and Ryan, the original Limited Resources guys, for constantly putting out quality and for giving me a goal to aim at
  • Patrick Chapin, for being so open about his setbacks and his journey back to the top and for inspiring me to do the same. And for coming on my show.
  • Finally, Wizards of the Coast. This game is more than just a game, and without it I honestly don’t know where or who I would be.

    With all that the game has done for me, that this list has done for me, how can I not do everything I can in return? Why wouldn’t I extol its virtues at every chance, why wouldn’t I help any and everyone I can who is getting started in the community, be it a new player or a new podcast? After everything you’ve all done for me, how can I do less in return?

    You know, I’ve been part of some pretty intense arguments about Magic through digital media. There are people within the community I don’t particularly like. Sometimes it strikes me though: we are so damn lucky. We play a game that is so much more than just a game. We have almost daily meaningful interaction with the people who make the game. We’ve shown that we can influence the way the game is played, made and organised. If we’re good, we can make a living playing this game, selling this game, making this game. Our community helps its own: just in the last year we funded two trips for players, replaced stolen collections, donated large sums to charity and united to protect both our game and one of our biggest names (though some did so far too vigorously). We can make friends, find partners, get dream jobs and move on to bigger and better things because of this game. It develops our minds, our social skills, our leadership skills. Magic is so much more than “a child’s card game” or some geeky pastime. Magic saved my life.

  • Tagged

    Brewing in Draft – WB Synergy

    Innistrad draft has been widely acclaimed as one of the best draft formats ever, if not THE best. The green/white Travel Preparations deck is considered by most to be the strongest in the format, with the Spider Spawning and UW Tempo/Token deck also in the running. I think it’s a testament to the Limited environment in which we are operating. Although all of these decks are undeniably very good, they’re also very well known and people are always on the lookout for them.

    My rogue-brewing penchant is well known, and it extends to the draft format. In Innistrad I’ve had most of my success with a BW deck that is steeped in synergy an makes good use of some otherwise mediocre cards that you can often pick up late. It has a solid curve and can grind out a win just as easily as it can stomp face. Let’s look at some of the cards you want to pick up.

    Key Pieces
    The cards you really need to make the engine work.

    Village Cannibals, Unruly Mob, Thraben Sentry – These guys often go mid- to late pack and are they keys to all the synergy in the deck. There are a lot of Humans that you don’t mind killing, and these guys really don’t mind you killing them.

    Falkenrath Noble – One of the best creatures in the format. Mini-drains every time something dies are good in any black deck, but here where you are often killing your own stuff it really shines. They also allow you to block more aggressively, always taking the trades where you can get them and letting some guys through if there’s no favourable block. Noble often makes players reconsider swinging in, which gives you time to find more synergy.

    Doomed Traveler, Mausoleum Guard – This should not be a surprise. These guys are good in almost any white deck, but they really shine here. I am not above attacking with these guys just to get them killed, then Rebuking them in the End of Combat step if they aren’t killed.

    Rebuke, Victim of Night, Slayer of the Wicked – Seems obvious that removal is good, but here they can serve a dual purpose.

    Nice to have
    These are the cards that go well in the deck, but you can get by without them.

    Selfless Cathar, Silverchase Fox – Two efficient creatures that have a useful sac ability but in this deck can make for some intriguing combat maths. You shouldn’t have trouble picking either one up late.

    Demonmail Hauberk – A lot of people HATE this card. Nobody denies that +4/+2 is a huge bonus, but sacrificing a dude is a big loss, especially with the potential of being blown out by a timely Smite the Monstrous. That said, it is rather ridiculous in this deck.

    Altar’s Reap, Disciple of Griselbrand – Both of these enable instant-speed sacrificing for a benefit, and make combat maths hard for your opponent. If you have BB untapped not many people are expecting you to sacrifice an attacking creature to flip your Sentry, buff your Cannibal and Mob AND draw two cards. It’s just not on the radar for a lot of players.

    Unburial Rites – Often goes early, and is by no means essential in your deck, but if you can get one then your Falkenrath Noble is going to do double- or triple-duty. Seems good.

    Rares and Mythics
    You won’t always get them, but they’re nice to have. This deck benefits from not actually NEEDING any rare bombs to be very good, but these all go well in the deck. I won’t add obvious first-pick bombs here (like Olivia) unless they are markedly better in the deck.

    Reaper from the Abyss – Definitely gets better in this deck. Creatures are GOING to die in this deck, and likely every turn. It might occasionally be right to kill off your OWN creatures with his ability.

    Skirsdag High Priest – Sacrificing a Mausoleum Guard is good. Doing it with this guy active is just better.

    Playing the deck

    Although on the face of it this is a pretty straightforward deck, there are some tricks here that you need to keep in mind. With all the sacrificing and growing that can and should be going on, doing so at the right time is very important.

    Sacrificing a Selfless Cathar is one of the most important tricks in the deck and possibly the most powerful. For some reason people often overlook it, even though it’s an onboard trick. They either forget the +1/+1 or forget the counters it’s going to get you.

    Elder Cathar is a really strong card here. You’re playing a lot of Humans so more often than not you’re going to get the two counters. When you attack (which should almost always be en masse to make the maths as hard as possible for the opponent) he becomes very difficult to block effectively. When blocking, throwing him in front of something with first strike can actually be a huge benefit for you.

    I mentioned attacking en masse, and the reasons are various. For one thing you have hopefully snagged a couple of Village Bell-Ringers, and that’s just a blowout in any deck. You’ve also got tricks to turn a tapped creature into an untapped blocker or two, and leaving back a High Priest and another guy can make attacking even more hazardous for the opponent. Bluffing Rebuke can also make your opponent more conservative, and the Noble is another scary card to deal with.

    Overall what we have is a powerful engine with a ton of synergy that can slot in with most of the good, strong rares in the colours. It’s also a blast to play. Have fun!

    The Cream Always Rises To The Top (An Apology)

    I’m a fucking hypocrite.

    After the extended Twitter drama of the last few days (some would say it’s non-stop drama) I started writing a long, emotional entry about how I was misinterpreted and misquoted and how shitstorms seem to always arise around me even though I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not here to confirm or deny that, though I will say it was written in a very bad state at the end of a very bad four-day stretch and should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

    A very good friend of mine recently told me that writing is catharsis, and I do believe she’s right. Just putting the Twitter events down on digital paper helped me realise that although my points may have been valid, I was coming from a severely unstable and incorrect base. As a result I got into arguments with people I respect and people I consider friends, and I feel terrible about that.

    Let me bring you up to speed, in case you missed some or all of the discussion. The details are irrelevant at this point, but suffice it to say that the age-old argument of brewers vs. netdeckers came up again. Having listened to the latest Eh Team (a rare miss in my mind) in which the hosts and guest stated categorically that a certain card was bad, I felt the (perhaps irrational) need to defend said card. At no point was my name mentioned as a defender of the card, but something that has always rankled with me is people thinking that because they don’t like a card, it’s instantly bad. I pointed out the virtues of the card in something of a passive-aggressive way, and then the debate started.

    Jay Boosh is a friend of mine, I hope. He has a heart of gold and will do anything he can to help a friend…including giving them a much-needed smack in the chops when they are being pig-headed. His manner may be a little more gruff than some appreciate, but once you know what’s under it you look past that. One thing he is not, however, is willing to play any old card just on the say-so of any old player. And he’s far from alone there. A whole swath of players like to play decks that are recommended by players they trust and respect and that suit their play style. If you’re a brewer but you’re not on their list, they likely don’t want to try your idea. It hasn’t got enough credibility behind it. The cream will always rise to the top, with decks as well as with dairy products, and these decks have done so.

    As a brewer, I spend a lot of time (now, though I never used to) testing my ideas. One of the things I am trying to do is filter them so that I only start talking them up once I know they are good. I’m not there yet though. The next step for me, as Smitty so often said was the case for him on The Eh Team, is to get people to play my decks. Also like Smitty, I get frustrated when people write the idea off simply because it came from me…then turn around weeks later and play the same deck because a pro recommended it, all the while talking about how great the deck and its builder are. And sometimes, that frustration escapes.

    Over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to talk to some true masters of the craft and have learned a great deal from them. That started with Mike Flores on episode 11 of Horde of Notions, and continued with Jon Finkel (episode 25) and Patrick Chapin (episode 27). You’d be hard-pressed to find three better deckbuilders when in their primes. They taught me a lot about their process and what goes in to every deck they build. You know what though? I’d heard much of it before.

    People like Jay, Nina, even Smitty had all told me a lot of the things that the masters were telling me. I ignored it…because they didn’t have the credibility or track record to make me want to listen to them. This realisation is especially jarring to me right now because although I consider Jay and Nina to be friends (and Nina has often had my back in discussions such as these, even if she does vastly overrate my skill), I flat-out look up to Smitty almost as much as I do the Chapins and Flores of the world. I am now where he was 8 months ago, and I’ve been following his path pretty much since I got back into the game. How I managed to ignore him is still a mystery to me. If I’m going to ignore advice from others on the basis of their reputation, who the hell am I to expect them to do things differently?

    Not to say my opinion on certain cards has changed. I believe people tend to rate cards in a vacuum or in a given meta, then not revise that rating as things change. That’s a trap. Magic isn’t played in a vacuum, and the quality of a card can and will change as the metagame changes. The list of cards from Scars block alone that are significantly better now then when they came out is rather long: Elspeth, Plague Stinger, Viridian Emissary, the Crusaders, Hero of Bladehold, Lashwrithe, Gut Shot, Vapor Snag, Volt Charge…these are just off the top of my head. There are several that are worse, too. To categorically say a card is bad, or “not a real card” when in fact it is winning events and showing well in others is just inaccurate. But it is patently unfair and hypocritical of me to get angry that people won’t put any trust in my ideas and opinions and won’t respect what I saw when I wasn’t willing to do the same for them.

    Jay, Nina, Jeph and anyone else I fought with over this: I’m sorry I got overheated and carried away. Opinions at the end of the day are just that, and you deserve more respect from me than you got.

    Brewers: Stop fighting everyone who says no to you. The way to get people to trust your decks is to win with them. If you can’t then ask yourself why. Is it because you’re a bad player, or because the deck itself is bad? Is it both? If the former, you have a tough road ahead. If the latter, scrap it and start again. Once you start winning, people will start trying it. Don’t worry what one or two people think just because they have the loudest opinion. In the end, the truth always rises. Just like the cream.

    Mayor? I hardly know ‘er!

    Mayor of Avabruck is a very powerful card that has yet to really make an impact outside of Limited. When played early it puts pressure on control decks to tap out to prevent it flipping, and against aggro decks it excels late game when they are often in top deck mode. In pairs they work REALLY well, especially flipped when they are churning out a pair of 4/4 Wolves each turn. It has plenty of weaknesses of course: it dies to the currently-ubiquitous Gut Shot, even flipped it dies to Brimstone Volley and Incinerate and it has no evasion. All of these things are true, but if you play the card in a blue shell with plenty of permission then some of those difficulties are mitigated.

    So we know we’re in green/blue, and we also know we want to be able to ship the turn without casting anything in order to flip our Mayors. We also want to ensure we have multiple Mayors in play, have ways to protect our Mayors and also have an alternate plan to win the game. That all sounds like we want a lot of instants, so Delver of Secrets would appear to be a natural fit. Mayor also pumps Delver, no matter which side is face-up. Cackling Counterpart lets us copy a flipped Mayor (or Delver) at instant speed, allowing for both combat tricks and responding to a flip-back trigger for the Mayor. We want a strong suite of counters, which conveniently flip the Delver as well. Frost Titan is not seeing a lot of play right now but seems fairly well-positioned and is also a great target for Cackling Counterpart.

    I had a pair of Runechanter’s Pike in the deck but I always found myself wishing they were something else. They are now Rampant Growths. I somehow only have 1 Dissipate online so I’m playing with Cancel instead, but if you’re going to make the deck then you really want Dissipates there. I’m also short 2 Hinterland Harbor. I’d consider Ludevic’s Test Subject, at least in the sideboard against decks that have trouble dealing with it (not decks running Vapor Snag or any black deck, basically) as it is a good early blocker that is great to copy when it flips.

    So, let’s get to the list!
    [cardlist title=Mayor Says No style=width:500px;layout:cardbox 2 right;category:tabbed 8;options:true false;]

    [spells]
    *4 Ponder
    *3 Rampant Growth
    *4 Disperse
    *4 Mana Leak
    *4 Cancel
    *4 Cackling Counterpart
    *1 Dissipate
    [/spells]

    [creatures]
    *4 Mayor of Avabruck
    *4 Delver of Secrets
    *2 Frost Titan
    [/creatures]

    [lands]
    *3 Ghost Quarter
    *9 Forest
    *12 Island
    *2 Hinterland Harbor
    [/lands]

    [Sideboard]
    *4 Flashfreeze
    *4 Steel Sabotage
    *2 Phyrexian Metamorph
    *1 Phantasmal Image
    *4 Moonmist
    [/sideboard]
    [/cardlist]

    Not the layout I was hoping for but I couldn’t get the one I wanted to work. The sideboard is a work in progress, the Moonmist feeling especially loose. Steel Sabotage has felt very good, however. The deck has trouble against mono-red, so Tree of Redemption might need to be in the board. You have enough counters to keep nasty things off the board, but dropping Mayor or Delver early is still sometimes the best play. Disperses help there but something like Quicksilver Geyser might be an option worth considering. Wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Anyway, this is very much an FNM deck at best, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, advice and results with it. Have fun!