The Flashy Play: Big Green Writer's Block

by Frank Shaskus

Sometimes you want an article to come together so badly it hurts. Ideas grow into sentences, some even make it into a paragraph. But they all seem to die on you, which leaves you worried that maybe you can't say what you want. Left unchecked, the pieces of articles running roughshod around your mind will almost certainly drive you mad.

The Key:
Plaintext is the Article
And Italics are the Meta Article
The easiest way to fight through a Writer's Block is to start with the basics:

What information do you want to convey?
How do you want to say it?
What is your goal for the piece?

So you start with an idea for an article about a Green deck. The core idea behind it is that every card in the deck generates card advantage of some sort. You want it to be mono-green, because mono-green appeals to you and is usually be fun to play. You also want it to look fun to play, which is a slightly different thing. One and two-ofs make the deck look more fun because the deck does not play the same every time. All the four-ofs make the deck feel more consistent, so that the core goals of the deck can be reached. The information you want to convey is that you have a fun mono-green casual deck. This is the message upon which the article will be based.

Next you have to figure out the structure of the article. One of the nice things about writing for the web is that there are very few limitations on tone, narrative, or style. You can write an article from the point of view of an angry thumbprint on the back of an Ancestral Recall and it will probably fly if you have the chops to make it work. Knowing this, you try quiz style, but it wasn't as funny as you were hoping. You try Monster Truck announcer, but it reads all tinny and fake. You structure the article as a sad letter to your grandmother, but it was a bit too confusing. (Though you do call your grandmother to tell her you were thinking of her, so the time was not wasted.) Finally you decide to try a recursive self-referential type thing about how you write an article. It seems to work. You are a bit worried that the idea itself is not engaging enough, so you decide to go with the second person voice. (The problem with the second person is that it is alienating to a certain type of reader, of which I am, ironically, one. The benefit of second person is that it forms a tighter bond with the readers who accept it.)

Now you need a goal. The goal can be as simple as 2500 words, or something as esoteric as trying to get the reader to scratch their nose at some point during the article. Your goal is a bit less eccentric. You want at least one person who reads the article to build the deck and comment in the forums. Every comment, from, "not funny" to, "spank me" is someone interested enough in your article give an opinion. If someone is motivated enough to try the deck out, your article was be a success. This is a much easier goal with a pauper deck or an attractive color combination. Historically people love mono-green, so your goal should be attainable.

Let us examine the deck that has me at a loss for words:

The deck is what ropes people in. In this case you'll lead with it, hoping to generate some interest

MonoGreenCardAdvantageMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Various and Sundry Persons
4 Vinelasher Kudzu
4 Scryb Ranger
4 Yavimaya Dryad
4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Penumbra Spider
2 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Allosaurous Rider

4 Baru Fist of the Krosa
1 Verdeloth the Ancient

2 Wurmcalling
2 Sprout Swarm
2 Utopia Vow
1 Overrun

2 Gauntlet of Power

4 Dryad Arbor
1 Pendelhaven
3 Terramorphic Expanse
15 Forest

The first step in getting someone to want to try the deck is to make the deck intriguing. You can do this by talking about the type of plays and interactions the deck is capable of, the record it has against other decks, or engaging personal experiences with the deck. Since this is a Flashy Play article you'll focus on plays and interactions.

Ain't no party like a treefolk party
Interactions begin at the two spot. Scryb Ranger and Vinelasher Kudzu play together quite nicely. You never miss a drop with the Ranger, and a growing 4/4 that beats and can surprise block is never a bad thing.

But that's not all. Scryb Ranger and Dryad Arbor allow you to over commit to the board, because you can return the foresty Arbor to your hand at will (so long as “at will” is once a turn). Since Ranger can also untap Arbor it can ramp your mana up pretty quickly for Wurmcallings or the big drops. In the old days, Quirion Ranger used to abuse (word choice matters) Priest of Titania to allow seven or eleven mana on turn three. We can't quite do that, but we can get five on three pretty easily with the two in combination.

Complicating the situation is Yavimaya Dryad. You already know it can fetch Arbors, which is nice. But playing it with Baru or Vinelasher Kudzu in play allows you to begin thumping like an eighteen-inch subwoofer. You can use Terramorphic Expanse as a combat trick with Kudzu or Baru as well.

Baru also plays nicely with the amazing Deadwood Treefolk. His Grandeur ability is much better when you can use it two or three times a game. And with the Ranger he is always active. Something important to note in the real world is that Baru's ability triggers every time a Forest comes into play, no matter who plays it. So if your opponent plays a Forest on his turn all your guys are that much bigger. You will never have to remind your opponents about this after the first time they attack and find out all their combat math was wrong.

Deadwood Treefolk combos with himself, as always. If you draw the second Deadwood when the first is in the yard, you will win most wars of attrition.

Cause a treefolk party don't stop

The Gauntlet of Power is an obvious addition. It makes everything you have better. It allows for 6/6 Wurms every turn, or 4 2/2 Saprolings, or a Yavimaya Dryad that nets five points of power. Verdeloth the Ancient + Gauntlet = opponent Wrath next turn. Or they concede.

Sprout Swarm and Wurmcalling fill the same role. They are card advantage closers. Wurmcalling versus Urza's Factory gets a little awkward. The workers try to stop the beatings, but in the end they get squished. And if Baru is in town, they probably get trampled too.

What is interesting about the deck is that it is always pulling ahead. Few of the cards have giant flashy effects, but you just keep pushing further and further past your opponent. That's not to say you forsake the flashy play, as Verdeloth for ten 3/3 Saprolings certainly brings the warm fuzzies. Baru Grandeur into Deadwood Treefolk into Baru Grandeur certainly is fun too. Most decks can't deal with two 10/10 trampling wurms.

And a note about the spiders: in the Casual room, some people like to play Angelfire. Penumbra Spider stops them cold. Huge butt, hard to kill, and Wrath proof. The deck originally did not run them. It benefited greatly from the addition.

You have hopefully gotten them interested. Now is the time to go into the grey areas, where you discuss things like fun and feel. What people are looking for from Magic is an Experience. If you can effectively convey what it is like to play the deck, they will want to try it. The best Magic writers make this part look easy. You have to work at it a bit.

What makes this deck work is its ability to change gears. If the opponent mounts a fast offense, you can match them drop for drop. But each of your drops sets up something slightly better later. If they come out with a slow controlling style, you can commit enough resources to the board to force action because most of your resources are self-replacing. You aren't the biggest boy on the block, but you are consistent. Tendrils of Corruption for 12 is much less scary when you can put another 8 power on the board without costing yourself a card. The deck can set up for the long game because there is so much deck filtering that roughly half the cards you draw must be responded to. Against control, you can steal some of their late game by playing a steady stream of threats that prevents your opponent from restocking. Against a deck like this, Teferi is just a speed bump.

Open Palm of the Krosa?

What makes this deck fun is the ability to surprise your opponent with onboard tricks. Things like Using Scryb Ranger and Arbor to lock up Korlash, Ranger and Baru to keep bringing the hammer, or Overrunning on turn five with six creatures in play and no overrun! Following up a Wrath with Verdeloth for eight 3/3s with seven lands and a Gauntlet on the board. Then Deadwooding Verdeloth after their second Wrath. The deck is amazingly resilient, and each spell you draw in the mid to late game feels like a pleasant surprise.

Now you have the option to do things like game logs, name checking, tournament experience and the like. You don't do them the last two as a general rule, because you don't know any names worth dropping and you play in very few tournaments. You like to read game logs, but if they are well done then after reading them you feel like you are done with the deck. You want to figure things out on your own, and leave some mystery for the readers. Game logs do work wonders for getting the word count up, but you usually choose to pump it up with jokes, stories, or long asides. Your asides have to be in the first person, because otherwise they will sound really silly in your reader's head.

Time for a rambly aside
The first game this deck played was a monster. Second-turn Kudzu, third-turn Forest, Yavimaya Dryad into Arbor. Fourth-turn Forest, Dryad into Arbor. Fifth-turn Baru, Forest, win. Clearly ideal. The problem with a draw like this is that you get complacent. You think nonsense like, "the deck is obviously amazing. It needs no work. After all, it just rolled." The trouble is that every new deck can get better. When you start so strong, you have an unreasonable expectation for an untuned deck. When it continued to roll though the casual room on MTGO, I was convinced I had something groundbreaking and amazing. (Rolling through the casual room is not the litmus test for goodness. But it feels nice.) With Scryb Ranger in the deck, I could win games with crazy odd card interactions that made every turn a puzzle for me to solve for great victory.

Then I played against Angelfire. And I was rocked by fliers. Big ones, small ones, more than I could handle. They could slow me down enough with Pyroclasm, Lightning Helix, and Wrath that I played behind the whole game. I knew I had a good deck, so I found another Angelfire and gave it another go. Same result. So I went from on top of the world to worried I had a handful of (virtual) crap. The Utopia Vows and the Rangers just were not enough. I needed something better. So I added the super spider and tried a few more times again. The deck worked better. It wasn't beating Angelfire all the time, but it was making it a lot harder for them. I'd miss the Scryb Ranger/Skyshroud Ranger/Kudzu/Baru interaction. But Deadwood and Penumbra Spider go together pretty well, recovering from Wrath is nice, and the deck just felt more solid.

So the deck lost some coolness, and a few combos that I really liked bit the dust. But I was able to shore up a fairly big weakness in my deck at the expense of a small combo enabler. Sometimes you have to choose between winning big and winning often. Usually I err on the side of big, but when I thought I had something good, I adjusted. Not because I see this taking off and dominating a tournament scene. This deck is a scrapper, but it is mincemeat in a world of finely-tuned death-spewing machines. I changed it because I had a problem that I wanted to solve, instead of giving up on the matchup.

Wordy conclusion that attempts to tie Magic to something bigger.

The appeal of Magic is that it lets us control our own little world absolutely. It is like tuning a car, writing a song, or shooting a basketball. For a few minutes it lets us express ourselves and maybe show others a small slice of who we are. I wanted to be able to beat Angelfire because in doing so, I'd feel just a bit smarter and just a bit more in control of my world.

So whether you use Magic to express yourself via a single-minded attention to winning or by putting together the perfect flashy play, give this deck a try. I hope it fits into your world as well as it fit into mine.

Now you sit back and look at the article. For the next 24 hours, you will think it is great. For the following two weeks you'll dread reading it because of all the things you could have done differently and better. And eventually you'll accept it as a view of who you were right then. Because that is how writing an article goes. (How it goes for you anyway; Yawgmoth only knows how it goes for other people.)


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