What ever happened to Battle?

Over at the Evolution blog, Ruben Gonzalez asks “Que fue de Battle of Wits?”
Or, in English, “What happened to Battle of Wits?”
In the article, Ruben looks at Battle circa 2005, with Sam Gomersall’s list, then looks at how the list was updated for 2008 by Alex Yatsenko of Russia, who bravely piloted it to a 5-3 finish (including one win over Steve Sadin, who picked an even worse deck to try and win a Pro Tour with).
Ruben has some interesting commentary in his article, including a discussion about how the 2008 deck has focused even more on actually finding a copy of Battle, along with other changes to try and make the deck more effective. Once again, you’ll need to be able to read Spanish (or enjoy the quirks of machine translation) to read the article, with the added bonus this time around that the deck lists are also in Spanish. Still, if you can swing it, it’s a good read, even if you (like me) don’t relish the idea of showing up to a tournament with four decks instead of the requisite one.
(Sorry about the lack of correct diacriticals. I’m trying to figure that out.)

Extended Gifts – a retrospective

Gifts Ungiven is an excellent card.
I like searching decks. I like searching my deck to get a card I need to set up an engine. I like searching my opponent’s deck to remove a card they need. As a consequence, I really enjoy the idea of Gifts Ungiven, and I’ve been thinking about whether a Gifts deck is a good call for the current Extended season.
Of course, saying, “I plan on playing Gifts” is a lot like saying, “I plan on cooking with flour.” While it may constrain what you might possibly be making, it doesn’t actually say much about what you will be making. With that in mind, I wanted to take some time to think about Gifts. And because I’m already a bit of a research wonk, I decided to look back through the history of Gifts Ungiven in Extended PTQs.
But first, let’s take a look at the card itself. Unsurprisingly, given the name of this site, I get a lot of searches coming here asking questions like “How do I use Gifts Ungiven?” So, how do we use it?
At its most basic level, Gifts is card advantage. You will end up with two cards in hand for one card expended – basic card advantage.
Expanding on that, there are a number of ways people use the card.
To get what I need
Many Gifts decks include a framework that basically lets you Gifts for a defined pair of regrowth cards along with one or two targets you actually want. For example, you might have Eternal Witness and Reclaim in your deck. If you subsequently find that you absolutely must get your single copy of Fracturing Gust to close out that pesky Affinity deck, you can Gifts for Witness, Reclaim, Gust, and something else. Even if the opponent puts your Gust in the graveyard, you’re guaranteed to get at least one effect in your hand, whether its Witness or Reclaim, that can get that Gust back.
To get what I need right now
If you look at, say, Patrick Chapin’s Gifts deck from PT Berlin, you’ll see that he has three different sweepers in the deck (in his case, Firespout, Wrath, and Engineered Explosives). In this case, instead of needing to rely on reanimation, you can be sure that you’ll get some form of the type of card you need, simply because you have at least three options, so you can only ever lose two of them to the graveyard post-Gifts.
This is also why we want to diversify between Basic and Snow-Covered Basic lands in our decks – so we can Gifts for Forest, Snow-Covered Forest, Breeding Pool, Stomping Ground, and guarantee we get a Forest immediately.
To set up an engine
There are a lot of engines that you can put in place quickly with Gifts regardless of where the actual cards end up in the Gifts split. Consider the Tron player who Gifts for Mindslaver, Academy Ruins, Life from the Loam, and something else. No matter where you put those cards, unless you can attack the Tron player’s graveyard, they’re going to get the Ruins out, get the Slaver back, and lock you out. Similarly, you can Gifts for a Life from the Loam and three Onslaught cycling lands, and you suddenly have a super-powered card draw engine.
So that’s how you can use Gifts. How have people actually used it? Click through to the extended to see how Gifts has shown up in the last three Extended PTQ seasons.

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A post-Conflux GPT in Madrid

Writing for Evolution in Spain, Juan Miguel Garcia reports on a recent GP Trial for Hannover. You can click here to read Juan’s tournament report, including a breakdown of the tournament metagame, the top eight deck lists, and a report on the top eight. Mind you, if you can’t read Spanish, you may not get much out of the tournament report section itself. But for those of you who aren’t good with Spanish, the deck lists for the top eight are in English.
As Juan points out, five of the decks in the top eight include Conflux cards. I recently looked at another GP Trial which saw Might of Alara and Path to Exile making their way into Zoo decks, and Knight of the Reliquary showing up in its expected place in a Loam deck. Click through to the extended entry for the interesting tidbits from the Evolution top eight.

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Why Eiganjo doesn’t make the cut

Someone asked why we see Shizo and Okina in Doran/Junk decks these days, but not Eiganjo. I wrote a reply in the Wizards forums that I think is worth reprinting, so here it is:
Each nonbasic you add to your mana base increases your exposure to auto-losses from moon effects. So you’re doing a cost-benefit analysis for each land slot to see if it should be a basic or something else. The Doran deck is going to naturally want to start with some combination of fetches and shocks to make sure you hit your turn one, two, and three mana marks, so much of the base is already spoken for. From there, you need to have a certain number of basics to (1) fetch, (2) reduce your damage from fetching later-game lands, and (3) increase your resiliency against the moons.
So, we look at each Legendary land, for example, and evaluate what its going to do for us.
Shizo can straight up win games by letting Doran swing past blockers. That’s probably worth a little more exposure.
Okina can make Doran a little bigger for a little more damage. That might be worth more exposure (I actually don’t use Okina).
Eiganjo makes Doran a little tougher if he’s running into big blockers, or if someone’s trying to burn him out. Shizo actually solves that blockers problem, and Doran’s going to be Smothered, Putrefied and Exiled way more often than he’s going to be burned, so that’s not an especially useful ability. It’s almost certainly not worth the additional exposure.

The Moon effects force us to be more honest with our mana bases, an observation I’ve heard in the last few months from both Rich Hagon and Mike Flores (Mike in a top eight podcast, and Rich commenting on the fact that the Pro Tour floor at Berlin saw far more basics in play than the parallel Standard events). Each time you choose something other than a basic land, you must do a serious cost-benefit analysis to decide if that’s worth the increased exposure.

Classroom studies

Magic came out when I was a high school student, so there really hadn’t been a lot of time for teachers to know what we were doing in between classes or to be able to usefully talk to us about how the game works. These days, however, gamers my age are the teachers, and games are an excellent way for them to connect with students.
Over at Mana Nation, Dan Eckstein recently started writing Magic: the Classroom, a column about teaching his students how to play the game, and seeing where they go with the ideas and tools he gives them. So far, the first two columns have been excellent introductions to key concepts in making a competitive, structurally sound deck. They are:
In The Rule of Nine, Dan tells us that “When you design a deck all you really need is nine cards.” It’s a great piece that will inform you if you’re at the stage of just throwing a pile of good cards that you like together, and you’re wondering why you don’t win all that much with them.
In The Curve, Dan discusses the eponymous game concept, taking us from the basics of making a coherent deck into the somewhat more advanced realm of making sure we have actual plays when we need them.
I recommend both articles, especially as primers for newer players.

The last before Conflux

Deck lists went up this week the January 24th PTQ in San Diego, which should be the last set of pre-Conflux PTQ results we see.
First, was that attendance correct? 74? That’s awfully low for California. I’d buy it if someone said they’d dropped a “1” from the beginning of that number.
The winning deck was a blue-green-white build with a wide range of utility creatures including Birds, Teeg, Rhox War Monk, Archmage, Vendilion Clique, and Venser. This was backed up with Bant Charm, Spell Snare, and double Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice. In fact, in what is necessarily an act of convergence and not replication (since Kenneth Ellis’s win at San Diego came before Flores made his post) it looks a lot like the Mike Flores re-do of Critical Mass that he posted a little while ago.
The sideboard includes an even distribution of Affinity, Storm, and graveyard hate.
The rest of the San Diego top eight was fairly combo-tastic, with three Storm decks and two copies of Elves. The other two were Affinity and RGW Sligh (NB – I may be misusing the term here, but that’s what other people are calling it, so I’ll stick with that).
There will be some post-Conflux PTQs on the 14th, two weeks ahead of my first PTQ in the new format. I’ll watch those results with some interest, as well as whatever Magic League results show up in the meantime. I don’t expect significant changes, although Hierarch will probably go into any Ellis-style decks, and Path to Exile means that All-In Red is an even worse choice than it already was (it may also impact Affinity’s performance). Beyond that, I don’t have any solid predictions for Conflux-dependent change in the PTQ metagame.
Addendum – After I wrote this, but before posting, I read Brian David-Marshall’s most recent The Week that Was where he tells us that two Modesto-area players got into a car accident on the way home from this PTQ. I’ll quote a bit here:
After playing in a Pro Tour qualifier for Honolulu two weeks ago, Robert Cash and Kenneth Ellis were involved in a car accident driving home from San Diego to Modesto. Robert was killed in the crash and Kenneth was seriously injured. My deepest condolences go out to Robert’s family and friends and my wishes for a speedy and complete recovery go out to Kenneth and his family.
Although I didn’t know Robert and Kenneth personally, they’ve both been going to many of the same PTQs I’ve been to, and were part of the friendly PTQ crowd. I’m very sorry to hear about Robert, and I hope Kenneth recovers sooner rather than later.

Hierarch Tower

When I first started considering Noble Hierarch in Standard, my thoughts initially went to building a straight-up Bant deck. However, after a pause to reposition my thoughts a bit, I realized that there was no requirement to use all three of the Hierarch’s colors. Pretty clearly if you just want green, it’s almost universally better to go with an elf, but if you wanted, say, green and white…
…and if, perhaps, you were planning on running out a 3-mana Legendary tree who would make the Hierarch hit for 2…
That prompted the deck list in the extended entry. Click through to see it.

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Buying Conflux

As I’ve said previously, my basic pattern for buying any new set is to start by picking up a full common/uncommon playset as a unit (that’s four of each common and uncommon card in the set). This saves me the trouble of trying to guess which commons and uncommons will be useful in, say, the Extended lifespan of the set. It’s also more economical over even a moderate time window, especially as some uncommons pick up value. I expect Path to Exile to be that kind of uncommon, for example.
After that core purchase, I then look to pick up rares that I expect to want to use, with an eye especially toward picking up now those rares that will go up in price for much of the foreseeable future. For example, I picked up my Elspeths for 8 bucks each when the set came out; my local store is now offering 20 dollars credit for Elspeth these days.
In our ideal world, all the rares work like that. Well, in my ideal world, anyway. However, some rares are clearly and immediately good. These cards still tend to rise in price over time, so we want to get them sooner rather than later.
Click through to the extended for my purchases…

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