Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 30 – unofficial liner notes

Episode 30 of Yo! MTG Taps! is up – click here to listen to it. Topics this time around include M11 release events, EDH play, expensive decks, and more.
And namechecking me twice, which is always nice. 🙂 It also means I have a little bit to contribute.
Notes on casual play
Joey and Joe interviewed Adam Styborski, who writes about ‘casual’ play for both Daily MTG and Mananation. I generally find Adam a cogent, easy-to-follow writer and speaker, and I appreciated his take on the whole you’re doing it wrong discussion about Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).
I thought Adam made a nice analogy this time around between the unspoken social contract that is often present in a casual game and the unspoken behavioral “rules” of competitive play. His main point was that as you enter a new environment, you’ll find that you need to figure out how to behave. Very true.
However, there are still significant differences between the two situations. I’d make an analogy that goes like this:
The accepted social rules in competitive play – such as the idea that you’re likely to concede to an opponent if a win keeps them in contention but a win does nothing for you – are similar to the “don’t eat food and touch my cards” social rules in casual play.
In contrast, the other social rules of casual play, such as “Don’t counter too many of my spells” or “Don’t play cards that let you take extra turns” are like an unspoken version of the Tournament Rules. In fact, running afoul of these invisible rules of casual play often has a first-blush similarity to running afoul of a tournament rule:
Player A – “Judge!”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “My opponent missed her Dark Confidant trigger.”
Player A – “Dude! That’s so uncool. I didn’t know you were like that.”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “We don’t do land destruction here, ’cause it sucks.”
The chief difference is that the Magic Tournament Rules are written down, so there’s a unified place everyone can go to learn about them before they ever go to a competitive event (and recall that you’re really talking about PTQs or higher before this will really, really be an issue).
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, we can communicate in casual play, too.” You sure could. In fact, if you do, I’m thrilled. But this doesn’t always happen, and the problem is twofold.
First, some people just don’t think to do it. They assume their idea of casual is everyone else’s idea of casual, so they don’t want to spell it out.
Second, and much more problematic, is the issue that people don’t know what their rules are.
In the interview, Joey brings up the idea of the social contract, and Adam seems to take it that “social contract” by default means “make sure everyone has fun.” Really, though, a social contract is any set of rules that a bunch of people operate by. The deal with it being a “social” contract is that you didn’t, you know, sign a legal contract. So, a social contract can be anything from the rules at the place where I used to train BJJ (i.e. no striking during practice, since that wasn’t what we were there to learn) to a general agreement that if you take a Coke out of the fridge, you grab another one from the closet and stick it in the fridge.
This doesn’t mean that “Try to make sure everyone has fun” can’t be a social contract, but it does mean that this tends to be a messy, hard-to-follow, hard-to-enforce social contract. I’ve written about this before, and the gist of it is that for a lot of gamers, casual seems to informally mean, “Keep the game close, and let me play the way I want to.” The problem with this is that it means that someone who is in a position to dramatically outperform you – say by being a more experienced player, or simply owning more cards – has to then choose to suck by some ill-defined amount to give you that experience.
Set aside whether that’s fun or not for the “better” player – it’s simply a hard thing to do. Wizards has developers who spend significant amounts of time balancing two decks against each other. For someone who’s just showing up for the weekly game, not knowing exactly what everyone else is bringing this time around…it’s nigh impossible. And this means that they’re stuck trying to figure out how to best “throw, but not quite throw” the game once it starts.
Without, of course, letting your friends know you’re throwing the game.
I’m certainly not telling anyone they’re doing it wrong. The number one rule remains “have fun,” so if you go each week and you and your friends all have fun, you’re gold and nothing else matters. What I am saying is that statements like, “It’s about making sure everyone gets to play” are content-free. They’re not actionable. They don’t help other gamers figure out how to achieve this goal.
This is why I like structure, no matter what that structure is. Although I do tend to cleave to the “competitive” formats, my casual play in the last year has included cube drafting and playing with Duel Decks, and they were both awesome. But you’ll note that they’re also both structured – get the cards, play the cards. I didn’t have to try and throw the game a bit to make stuff fair in the cube drafts; we just drafted and played.
Ban Jace!
Well, really don’t.
Joey and Joe talked for a bit about a commenter who wanted some serious discussion about banning Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The context as given was the idea that Jace is “everywhere,” and that decks that “have no business running Jace” are nonetheless using him.
But I think the subtext is pretty clear – the card is really expensive.
Cards don’t get banned for being expensive. They just don’t. That would murder the heck out of the game’s salability if they were, and it wouldn’t help, since beheading the format’s price list would simply drive new cards up to the top of that list.
Cards are banned for causing problems, whether these problems are procedural (e.g. Sensei’s Divining Top) or format-skewing (e.g. Skullclamp). Jace is neither. He is a good card, and good cards show up in decks. Once they show up in enough decks, they rise in price.
But as our two Js point out, Jace is not format-skewing. The solution to Jace? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. If there were no Jace, what would many decks out there want to do? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. One of the genius aspects of planeswalkers is that the solution to any (any!) planeswalker is to just do what you were going to do anyway. Summon monsters, attack. Cast burn spells. O-Ring some stuff. Deny it with a Mana Leak, take it with a Duress.
This is not 2007-era Extended Dredge, where you either dedicate half your sideboard to the matchup or cross your fingers really hard and hope for good pairings. The solutions are already in your deck anyway.
Sure, it can be frustrating to not have ready access to all the expensive cards. But cards shouldn’t (and won’t) be banned for financial reasons.
For the last year or more, the consensus best deck has never wanted to play Jace, and has been relatively budget, as J&J pointed out. And really, they hit the mark in addressing this issue – no matter what, having a competitive deck will cost you. It’ll either cost you money, as you pay increased secondary market prices to buy the cards for a proven design, or it will cost you time and effort, as you develop your own. There is no third option.
Anyway, enough of that. If you haven’t listened to this week’s Yo! MTG Taps!, go do so (right here). And then check out the Magic Effectiveness Project and fill out a survey, if you haven’t yet.

Yo! MtG TAPS! episode 15 liner notes

Edited this one to point to the correct episode — it was 15, not 14. Oops.
I was listening to episode fifteen of Yo! MtG TAPS! while I was in the lab for a couple hours this morning, and after showing great restraint at not turning them off when the Jund complaining started, I started jotting down a few notes relating to the content. For those YMT! listeners out there (and I do enjoy the show, so you should go give it a try), here they are:
1) One of the concerns people naturally have about Legacy and the inability to reprint dual lands is that if Wizards were to go ahead and print functional replacements, players who currently own duals would still be advantaged, because they’d be able to run eight of a given dual.
This isn’t actually as big an issue as you might think. Consider the use of duals in the following tier one Legacy decks:
Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT)

  • 4 Underground Sea
  • 1 Tropical Island

This deck could happily replace that one Tropical Island with our theoretical Snow-Covered Underground Sea (I love tacking “Snow-Covered” onto all these card names to yield curious-sounding lands…).

  • 1 Taiga

Some Belcher lists run two lands. Clearly, we’re not coming close to dipping into extra duals on this one.
Countertop Progenitus

  • 3 Tropical Island
  • 2 Tundra
  • 1 Volcanic Island (with one more in the sideboard)

Once again, we’re not dipping into extra duals. The mix of Tropical Islands, Tundras, and Volcanic Islands is necessary to make the deck work, rather than being some kind of concession to availability of duals.
None. Legacy Dredge in its various forms does not use duals at all.

  • 4 Underground Sea

This deck could run additional Snow-Covered Seas, but that’s probably a bad idea, as it increases your vulnerability to Blood Moon effects (which is probably why you’d want to run multiple Swamps and Islands in the first place, as the current lists do).

  • 2 Taiga
  • 1 Savannah
  • 3 Plateau

In Legacy or Extended, Zoo decks just tend not to max out on specific duals.
In the fetch-laden land of Legacy, most decks don’t run the full complement of any one dual, and thus wouldn’t benefit at all from having access to “four more” of a given dual. There are some exceptions, such as ANT dipping into a “fifth” Sea, and possibly Goblins, but generally, decks in Legacy do not automatically improve with access to four more of the same dual.
2) I’m still going to have to disagree with the view of Jund. The NFL analogy is off — having six Jund decks in the top eight of a GP is not the same as having the Patriots appear over and over again in the post-season, because the differences between any two Jund decks are much larger than the differences between, well, the Patriots and the Patriots. I’ve written about this more than once, but just looking at the colors and the presence of Bloodbraids and saying, “Oh, Jund again” is a lot like grouping all the AFC West teams together as if they were the same superteam.
Essentially, if you’re not going to bother to track the major differences in builds and pilot skill, then yeah, it’s going to seem like more of the same. That feels like almost intentionally making the game more boring for yourself, which is part of why it bugs me a bit each time I hear folks do it.
Or, put more positively, the difference between Gortzen Jund and Reitbauer Jund is significant and cool. It’s like watching the differences between the various Teachings builds at PT Yokohama, which ranged from single-card-choice differences through whether to include the Pickles lock or not.
3) The top eight at Kobe not being coated with Affinity decks and the idea that Affinity was dominant at the time are not mutually exclusive. It just shows that some people made an excellent metagame choice and, along with their play skill, piloted decks that were tuned to beat Affinity and have game against anti-Affinity decks into the top eight.
Here was the day one breakdown at Kobe:
Affinity – 110
Green-Red “Anti-Affinity” – 44
Big Red – 39
Mono-Green – 16
Death Cloud – 12
TwelvePost – 8
W/x Control – 5
Other – 6
None of the Death Cloud decks made day two, and only one W/x Control build (played by Shota Yasooka) made the cut.
Here was the day two field:
Affinity – 38 (34% conversion rate from day one)
Green-Red – 13 (29% conversion rate from day one)
Big Red – 22 (56% conversion rate from day one)
Mono-Green – 8 (50% conversion rate from day one)
Death Cloud – 0 (0% conversion rate from day one, and weren’t they sad about that…)
TwelvePost – 5 (63% conversion rate from day one)
W/x Control – Just Shota (20% conversion rate from day one)
One of the issues here, of course, is how we define “dominating.” The default anti-affinity R/G deck did rather poorly, but as Affinity was also the “I can’t think of anything better to do” choice for many players, it had its win percentage brought down by, well, bad players and people who just didn’t enjoy playing the deck. We saw something similar at Pro Tour San Diego this year, where 112 players brought Jund, many while saying they didn’t like the deck, but couldn’t think of anything better. 45 Jund decks made it to day two…which doesn’t tell us as much as it used to, with the draft rounds.
Affinity was “dominating” much as Jund is, in the sense that a good Affinity build with a solid player behind it would be very hard to take down. That said, it’s also “dominating” in the way Jund is in simply being prevalent, which means that many people have chosen it as the “best deck” without really understanding how it works or how to play it optimally. As a consequence, good players running other decks can carve through much of the field and make it to the top, much as we saw in San Diego this year. Consider the top eight constructed records from San Diego:
Luis Scott-Vargas, running Boss Naya
Jeffrey Chen, running Vampires
Tom Ross, running Boss Naya
Aras Senyuz, running G/W Reliquary Angel
Gaudenis Vidugiris, running Mythic
Pat Chapin, running U/W Control
Bertil Elfgren, running Siege-Gang Jund
Jason Ford, running Bit-Blast Jund
Despite the ho-hum response of “Oh, it was Jund in the finals” that people had, our top constructed list comprises six different archetypes even if I go ahead and batch the two Jund lists together. That’s significantly more diverse than the Kobe top eight, which was five Big Red decks, two Affinity decks, and one copy of TwelvePost (although in fairness, it was Block and thus bound to be less diverse).
I don’t have a huge conclusion on this one except that there are two meanings of “dominating,” and they tend to feed into each other. A good deck dominates to some degree, and then becomes prevalent…and thus becomes “less good” because so many people who don’t understand it, or perhaps don’t like it, are trying to run it.