Clear indicators of structural flaws – PTQ Honolulu 2009

I just watched Gab Nassif’s spectacular topdeck to win his way out of the quarterfinals in Kyoto.
I’m reminded of earlier today, when one of my opponents commented that I was topdecking like a champ. I said that I’d put the cards there in the first place because I wanted to draw them…
I did not do particularly well at today’s PTQ, but I stayed in to try and suss out the issues with my deck choice. Across sixteen games, I mulliganed to six five times, and to five fours times, which suggest to me that there are basic structural issues here.
Click through to the extended for a deck list and a brief tournament report.

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An interview with our local champion

Luis Scott-Vargas has been on quite a run, with two GP wins and a Pro Tour win in the last few months, in addition to a standout performance at Worlds. This weekend, he’s had a crushing performance at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009, with an 11-game undefeated streak before Matteo Orsini-Jones finally took him down in round twelve.
The day before the PT started, Rich Hagon channeled James Lipton and did this nice little interview with Luis:

Luis looks to be playing in the top eight tomorrow while our area PTQ – which he’d be helping judge any other day – will be nearing its own top eight.

Faeries and Robots

I was thinking of talking about the SCG Richmond $5K, but our man Michael J covered enough of it in his column on the mothership, so I’ll leave it alone.
Instead, let’s take a look at the most recent batch of PTQ top eights as we pitch into the next PTQ weekend (where I’ll be playing, and for which I’m still trying to pin down my exact final strategy).
The first standout observation of this batch of top eights is that wins went to double Affinity, double Faeries, and one copy of Zoo. Looking past the blue envelope in this set of top eights shows us that Zoo continues to be strong, albeit largely in WRG rather than Domain variants, and that Faeries decks are starting to pack single copies of Meloku as a possible finisher. The third part of our stock triad – combo – remains a strong contender, with Storm and Elves decks finishing in multiple top eights as well (although with some clustering, suggesting certain environments are more prone to hating out the appropriate combos than others). The strong outlier choice is Bant Aggro, with a number of finishers in a couple of the top eights.
What’s the take home message? Nothing super exciting. Be prepared to face down mono-blue control, Storm combo, Elves combo, and Zoo, with a side order of Gaddock Teeg there just to screw you up, courtesy of Bant.
Click to the extended for comments and links to the most recent round of top eights.

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We have videos

I know I have some new (often Magic-related) traffic coming in here these days, so I wanted to highlight some of the video offerings I have available over on YouTube, for all you newcomers. My game-related YouTube account is right here. Sample videos include:
Luis Scott-Vargas taking down his first GP win

2008 Player of the Year Shuheii Nakamura playing at PT Hollywood

Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz playing at PT Hollywood

My video offerings are irregular, since they come up whenever I happen to be near a premier event, but I do encourage you to look through them, since they include video match coverage you won’t see anywhere else.

A wish for gifts that work

The first PTQ Honolulu of the Bay Area is this Saturday at Superstars Game Center (click there, or click here for our TO’s page).
I’m bringing a Gifts deck, which explains my recent Gifts Ungiven retrospective.
Although it’s my policy to not post my deck list until I take it to at least the first relevant event of the season, here are some of the observations that came up in testing:
Hierarchs are out
Even though Noble Hierarch is an excellent example of the exalted keyword, it doesn’t suit a control-oriented Gifts deck of the type I’m using.
Glittering Wish is still too slow
Although it makes me sad, Glittering Wish isn’t fast enough, either on its own or as part of a Gifts package. Around the time of PT Berlin, Pat Chapin said the Gifts engine isn’t powerful enough without a wish component, but in my testing to date, having the Wishes in the deck really weakens me.
This makes me sad, because conceptually, wishboards are awesome.
Shadowmoor gave Gifts some good tools
Even when you’re not wishing for hybrid cards (another cool feature of Shadowmoor vis-a-vis some Gifts decks), Shadowmoor and Eventide gave some great functional addenda to various Gifts packages. Consider, for example, the value of having Selkie Hedge-Mage as part of an anti-aggro Gifts split.
Three for me
Some Gifts decks run three copies of the eponymous cards, some run four. In my experience so far, four is one too many most of the time, as although I do want to see a Gifts by turn four or five, seeing one in my opening hand is unnecessary, and seeing two makes me a seriously sad panda.
That’s all for now. I’ll have more to say post-tournament.

Superstars Standard $5K – March 13th and 14th

I actually found out about this one from a Google ad on my own site:
Superstars Game Center is having a $5K Standard tournament. Click here for their information page.
The $5K is structured as a two-stage event, with three different feeder tournaments qualifying you for the top 32 single-elimination tournament where the prizes happen. The whole thing looks like this:
Up to 6 people will qualify from a 64-person flight on Friday, March 13th.
Up to 20 people will qualify from the 200-person main flight on Saturday, March 14th.
Up to 6 people will qualify from the 64-person flight on Saturday afternoon.
Prizes minimally go down to 16th place; if the tournament sells out, Superstars will give prizes to everyone in the top 32.
The entry fee is $30.
There will be the usual extensive side events that you’re used to from PTQs and other big events at Superstars, with normal and high-roller drafts.
Once again, click here to learn more, including helpful travel information if you’re coming from outside the area (including flying in!).

(Excellent) core set changes for Magic

In a pair of pieces on the main site today, Wizards announced that they’re changing how they handle the core set. You can read the piece-by-piece breakdown here and Aaron Forsythe’s article about it here. Here are the big changes:

  • The sets will now be named by year – for example, the next core set will be “2010,” rather than “11th Edition.”
  • Starting with the 2010 set, which releases this year, core sets will release annually each July, rather than bi-annually.
  • About half of the cards in the set will be new.
  • Core sets will be legal until October of the year following their release, meaning they’ll be legal for about 15 months (and there will be 3-month overlaps between core sets).

Aaron explains the reasoning well in his article, and I agree with him across the board. Let’s quote him a bit here:
Our core sets are typically the best way to teach and show off the world of Magic: The Gathering to the uninitiated, and to that end I believe they need to be as resonant and flavorful as they can be first and foremost. The core set should play into most people’s preconceived notions of fantastic creatures and spells, and those notions should guide them to understand the goals and mechanics of the game.
In the beginning, Magic relied heavily on this kind of flavor. Rock Hydra, Vesuvan Doppelganger, and Fireball are all considered complicated cards from a pure rules standpoint, yet each of those was beloved by players just getting into the game because of how they “felt.” Most fantasy fans have had experiences of one sort or another involving a hydra, a shapeshifter, or a fireball, and to see those concepts spring to life in a card game where they were in command

That most dignified of keywords

In testing for the upcoming PTQ here in San Jose, I’ve been using this gal:
It’s awesome, by the way. It also reminded me of the same feeling I had when I was running this lady at the Superstars Standard $1K:
Specifically, exalted is a brilliant keyword. Why is that?
In his recent article Rethinking Investment Theory: Everything Has Haste, Zac Hill discussed the way in which Sorceries and Instants beat out the random beater, by dint of having an immediate effect – effectively, “they have haste.” Thus the title. I tend to agree with Zac’s concept that a straight-up, wait-a-turn investment in a creature is kind of disappointing. This is why I tend to prefer creatures that have comes-into-play effects or have some other potential immediate value (e.g. Eternal Witness and Sakura-Tribe Elder, respectively).
Exalted is, much of the time, an immediate ROI, regardless of what else is going on with the creature in question. In the case of Battlegrace Angel, the immediate value is twofold, as by buying into the 4/4 flyer for next turn, you also get +1/+1 and lifelink for whatever you had in play this turn. This was brilliant much of the time in Standard (and has me, tangentially, thinking about playing Battlegraces as finishers in Extended).
In the more subtle case of my testing with Noble Hierarch, I found that the presence of the exalted keyword changed all my late-game Hierarchs from terrible draws (cf Birds of Paradise) into value draws. Now instead of a mana developer that you no longer need, you have something that reads “G: Give a solitary attacker +1/+1.” Clearly you wouldn’t play that on its own, but it means you suddenly have a topdeck that can do all sorts of things – like, for example, winning a Tarmogoyf war.
Over on Five with Flores, Michael J referred to his old article The Breakdown of Theory, which discusses the three-phase model of a Magic game. The phases are, briefly:
Phase 1: Manascrew (aka mana development)
Phase 2: Interactive play
Phase 3: Noninteractive play
Cards that get you out of phase 1 traditionally suck when you draw them post-phase 1. The presence of the exalted keyword converts Hierarch from a phase-1-only card to a card that has some value in all phases of the game.
So that’s why I’m so high on exalted right now. All in one concise little package, it solves the dual problems of delayed ROI from a creature and of mana smoothing being a poor late-game topdeck. That’s impressive for one little keyword.

iMTG (and a few others)

iMTG is a new launch point meant to aggregate a wide range of Magic blogs, podcasts, and other materials, giving Magic players an easy place to keep up with new content on the web.
I’m a big fan of aggregators of this type. While I subscribe to many resources already via RSS, launch pages inform me about new resources I hadn’t heard of before. It also gives me the option of not subscribing to every single resource, when some of them only really interest me occasionally.
Note that iMTG is heavily biased toward Spanish-language content, by dint of being organized out of Spain. Nonetheless, deck lists and many other bits of Magic data are typically universal – and hey, shouldn’t you know how to speak Spanish anyway? Sure you should.
There’s a similar German-language launch page called MTG Pop. I imagine, given the game’s popularity there, that there’s also something like this in Japanese, but I’m seriously no good in searching in Japanese. In contrast, I can point you toward the information site for Korean PTQs.
The pattern here being that I can read Spanish, German, and Korean, but not Japanese. So there you go.
I’m excited about the Spanish-language Magic community, as I’ve only recently begun exploring it. iMTG should be a good starting point for any of you who are interested in delving into Spanish Magic.