Off Topic: Play Smarter, Not Harder

Fall is here. Trees are turning color, leaves are falling, and my hands are full of slivers. The small pieces of wood lodged deep under my skin kind. My in-laws have a blueberry/apple orchard. Starting mid-July, Friday nights and Saturdays are dedicated to finagling the influx of 2,000 people at 6:30 on Saturday mornings. Once August hits, the season changes from the selling of blue fruit to the red and green ones. Apple season entails a multiple set of tasks. Being the S.O.B. (Son of the Boss), I am the go to guy. Also, I am the sucker who gets to pick up 50 lb wood crates, haul them out of the field, stack them, and shove them in the coolers all weekend. Murphy’s Law dictates I will eventually be plucking wood chips out of my hands.

A couple of weekends ago, my mind drifted off while performing physical stacking and unsticking of crates. I began to mull over some physics related ideas and struck upon the idea of Work. The physics definition entails of expelling energy to move an object a distance (Work = Force * Distance). A person pushing on an immovable boulder all day would be doing no work. Playing videos games is not working (sorry fellas and gals). If nothing moves or the object returns to the same vector (position), no work was performed. On a technical level, I was amused because of all the years hauling in crates from the field; I had not produced any work. Every year, they reappear under the trees for me to haul back into the packing barn. Dishes and laundry resemble the same scenario. Dishes get dirty, washed and placed back into the same position they started from before the meal. Sure, we expel a lot of energy in the process, but we don’t actually do any work.

Green Time Walks

I finally got my Zendikar cards from the UPS and began trying to build a deck to play in Standard. Premise of the deck was to build a Naya base into a Domain build. The thought was to abuse Gaea's Might. Initially, I had Rampant Growth and Harrow to facilitate getting to Domain or initially setting up my Naya base. As I tested, I realized I had made a rookie mistake. With all the mana acceleration, I trimmed the land count to 21 or 22. Cutting lands often led to no additional land drop my third turn. Instead of being able to drop Woolly Thoctar and Wild Nacatl on my third turn, I could only play the Thoctar. Even worse, another land drop prevents me from accelerating into an Ajani Vengeant or Day of Judgment. I might as well cut the Rampant Growth for another two drop or replace it with land. The other thought is to switch gears, replace other cards with lands to up the count, and go Red/Green mana ramp with a Naya splash for Bogardan Hellkite. Choices, choices.

Rampant Growth, Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise or the sexy Lotus Cobra are essentially a Time Walk. Yes, Time Walk gets a player another upkeep, untap step and attack phase. Negating that aspect, Time Walk is Rampant Growth.

Example 1

Time Walk

Turn one: Plains
Turn two A: Draw - Island – Time Walk
Turn two B: Draw – Plains – Pass the Turn (Just work with me here)
Turn three: Draw – Island – tap four - Wrath of God

Rampant Growth

Turn one: Plains
Turn two: Draw – Forest – Rampant Growth (fecthing a Forest)
Turn three: Draw – Plains – tap four – Day of Judgment

Example 2

Turn one: Tropical Island
Turn two A: Draw - Tropical Island – tap for two – cast Time Walk
Turn two B: Draw – Tropical Island – tap for three – cast Lorescale Coatl

Birds of Paradise
Turn one: Tropical Island – tap for one – cast Birds of Paradise
Turn two: Draw - Tropical Island – tap for three - cast Lorescale Coatl

In my Naya deck, I cut my land base down to such a level that I was constantly missing my third turn land drop (After playing a Rampant Growth of course). As such, I missed the opportunity to play any turn four spell whether it was Day of Judgment, Bloodbraid Elf, or Garruk Wildspeaker. Since I was missing my third turn extra land drop, Rampant Growth might as well been a land. I could have been spending those two mana playing Qasali Pridemage in order to move my game forward.

In no way do I want to confuse Rampant Growth’s other function of mana fixing. Mana fixing and acceleration are two different dynamics. If all I cared about were mana fixing, short changing my land count would be no big deal. The problem is I do care about the acceleration more so than the fixing. I’ve been testing in vain against Jund-Aggro and finding it difficult to beat the card advantage the Jund deck keeps throwing out. The only games I win are the ones were I accelerated into an third turn Ajani Vengeant or Nissa Revane (just trying her out). The same held true during Lorwyn block. I was play testing against an opponent and I was beating his Red/White Kithkin deck with my elves. After some testing, I finally pointed out his mistake. I remarked, “Kill my Llanowar Elf. If I play a turn one elf, kill it or I win. Without it, I can’t keep up.” Sure as mud, my turn one game winning Llanowar Elf kept getting met with burn sending it the graveyard. Yup, I lost all those games. My opponent was somewhat surprised even though it vexed him to use his burn on a dinky elf. It wasn’t just an elf, it was Time Walk on a stick.

Wasting Energy

During the Mirrodin era and Skullclamp ran rampant, it was interesting to see players wasting energy to return to the same place they started. The scenario I saw over and over again was seeing players equip a clamp on a Arcbound Worker. Playing Skullclamp for one mana (down one card, one mana), casting Arcbound Worker (down two cards, two mana), and followed by equiping the clamp onto the worker (netting two cards = returning to back to the origin, and down three mana). My comment, why? I suppose there will be times where it can be advantageous, but the whole aspect did nothing and wasted three mana. Skullclamp would have been better utilized on a Frogmite or any other creature in the Affinity deck.

The point; don’t expel energy unless the play makes your cards work for you. Vintage elves utilize clamp, but the mana of clamping creatures moves forward the plan of the deck. Clamping the Arcbound Worker, in most cases, not so much. I believe part of this failure is players naturally want to do something or make a play. The tendency is to play spells. It can be a dangerous road to travel down. Just because I can make a play, doesn’t mean I should. Take a Jund deck playing Terminate. My opponent has a Wild Nacatl in play. Should I Terminate it? The answer is no. All my cards in Jund can trade with the Wild Nacatl. It would be a waste of a Terminate. The spell would be much more advantageous on a Woolly Thoctar or Baneslayer Angel. I can’t deal with those creatures in my deck minus Maelstrom Pulse. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

All that Work for Nothing

Since my last bout at Grand Prix Chicago, I hope to attend the next Legacy Grand Prix. Until that time, I have been tinkering around with finding some viable reanimator deck. Not dredge, reanimator. The idea of playing giant creatures as early as turn one or two makes the little boy squeal with glee. One of the bigger problems to tackle is the huge amount of card investment. Spending all those cards and then having my opponent kill it with Warren Weirding, Swords to Plowshares, or Path to Exile can be a big downer.

Turn one: Swamp – Dark RitualBuried Alive
Turn two: Swamp – Exhume – (reanimate some fattie)
Opponent: Swords to Plowshares
Me: Sad

Of course there is the whole pesky aspect of getting around Counterbalance, Daze, and Force of Will. Still, the main problem is putting all my eggs in one basket and praying my opponent doesn’t have anything to thwart my plans.

Some aspect of this is related to overextending. Situations of overextending can be playing every single elf out of a hand to have them only get swept away by a Wrath of God. Bye, Bye, I will die now. Me sad. Most seasoned Magic players recognize this facet of the game. A point I am more concern with is players hinging a deck around one or two cards. These cards are the pivot point of the entire deck. If either one is neutralized, the whole deck falls apart. Not that it can’t be a particular potent strategy as the new combo Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage as a case in point. Fine for the experts, but it can be troubling when some players build a deck completely around a card like Pandemonium. “Oh no, Pandemonium. Naturalize, I win.” I honestly refer to these decks as pivot point decks. Everything in the deck swings around two or so particular cards. Neutralize any of the pivots; I win.

Again, either have something to protect the pivot or have a back-up plan.

Cold Fusion

The holy grail of most Tier One Magic decks come down to the least amount of energy expended for maximum result. Part of me has to laugh at the new extraordinary price on Dark Depths and Hypergenesis as of late. Earlier in the year, they were selling at bulk prices and now they are going for top dollar. I always find it interesting how this game can suddenly change. I am probably one of the few players who actually enjoyed opening a Dark Depths. Not that I particularly found the card powerful initially, but it had potential. The same held true for Ajani Goldmane. I was originally a firm believer in this planewalker’s potential. Dark Confidant was another card I picked up early on for 2 dollars a piece while the nay sayers told me the card was junk. Too bad I will never sell them for a profit.

Getting a little off track here. The holy grail in this game I was originally going to elaborate on was the majority of Magic thrives on getting something for nothing or what I like to refer to as decks/cards going ridiculous. Examples: cascade and Hypergenesis or possibly Restore Balance, Stifle and Phyrexian Dreadnought, Dredge decks, Tarmagoyf, Zoo decks, Bitterblossom, Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage, Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top, Force of Will and Daze, Psychatog, Goblin decks, Affinity decks, Natural Order and Progenitus, and old Tooth and Nail, Time Sieve, Mind's Desire Dragonstorm, and combo elves.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Usually a motto I live by, but I had a little too much fun Friday night. It was my first weekend off in a very long time. The plan was to sort my new Zendikar cards and place them into my binders on Saturday. Well, let’s just say my weekend hasn’t been too productive. The good news is I have gotten some Magic online time with a friend I have been trying to teach Magic. Our initial encounter was with physical cards, but the 800 mile distance between us leaves only online play. It was interesting. Magic has a high learning curve. Top it off with another learning curve of Magic online, games can be a little slow. My friend catches on amazingly quick. Smart chap. Unfortunately, a large chunk of time is utilized telling him how to use the system. Making the instructions clear and simple can be difficult. I sat there wishing I could just be sitting next to him pointing out things. Also, I can’t just show him stuff. The experience left me wishing there was a function in the game that would allow me to see his cards, screen, and stuff. A buddy option, something similar for two-headed giant. Instead of playing with each other, we would still be playing against one another. It would also be great if I could highlight buttons or cards for suggestions. I wouldn’t actually be able to play any of his cards. If I wanted to suggest he play a Lightning Bolt over a Terminate, I could click it and the card would highlight blue or some color. If he wanted, he could ignore my suggestions.

As I sit around drinking lots of water and playing couch potato, I have been watching some of the Pro Tour Austin video. Thumbs up to Wizards for all the video coverage. Seriously, good job in my books. The one simple thing I don’t like is constant up and down action of the camera between the players and the cards for deck tech talk. Up and down, up and down, up and down for some splendid motion sickness. It’s not terrible. In my book, it would be spectacular to have some kind of rack. The rack would hold the cards up in some vertical fashion. Maybe it could have a couple of tiers. During the interview, the rack would just sit on top of the table or behind them. The height of shoulder level would be splendid. A result of this would be no more up and down action. Randy, David and the Pro could just point to cards, while talking, still in the screenshot, and without having to touch another man’s cards.

All I have for today. Thanks for reading.


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