National Quals update – still 350 miles away

Last time we checked in on the new National Qualifiers setup, I did a little run-through of just how problematic it is for California players to just have the one qualifier in our state. As Riki and Sean pointed out on Judgecast, it’s even harsher on Reno players, who previously made the 2 hour trip to Sacramento for the Regionals there, and now get to choose one of these lovely options:
Las Vegas – 8 hours
Boise – 7.5 hours
Los Angeles – 8.5 hours
Portland – 10 hours
Salt Lake City – 8 hours
Ugh. My sympathies to our Reno crew.
Glen Godard, for whom I have a great deal of respect, has tried to encourage NorCal players to come on down to the Los Angeles National Qualifier with some incentives. If you remembered to email by yesterday, you can have free parking at the venue for your carpool, with the notable caveat of having had to have attended a SunMesa event in the last year, which rules me out. There are also reduced-price side events and an extra raffle ticket for a booster box give-away.
Unfortunately, none of that is enough to get me to attend, as I’m simply unable to take Friday off, drive down, play on Saturday, then drive back on Sunday. I’m also, quite honestly, unwilling to spring for air fare, especially on the relatively short notice we were given this time around for National Qualifiers. It’s also worth pointing out that at the rate at which combined fuel and wear-and-tear is typically estimated, the seven-hundred-mile round trip drive from NorCal to LA and back costs you about $350 — so if I were planning on going, I’d have done it by air. At least that way I’d get to relax and accrue some miles.
In the context of putting down at least $180 or so for air fare and more than that in car costs, free parking and a discount on side events I wasn’t going to play in anyway just doesn’t cover it. It’s still tremendously generous and thoughtful on Glen’s part, and I appreciate it, but this year will have to be a pass. For the cost of going to the nearest Qualifier and trying to qualify for Nationals, which in turn lets me try to qualify for a Pro Tour (Worlds), I can play in at least eight PTQs, either online or locally.
Qualifiers is great fun and a nice mixing point for very competitive and more casual players in the community, but at the cost of a few days and a few hundred dollars, it’s not worth it.
I’ve already written to Scott Larabee about these concerns, but I do think this will need to change for next year. While it’s fairly intuitive to have National Qualifiers happen on a state-by-state basis, not having one somewhere near the Bay Area or Sacramento really cuts out access for a wide swathe of Magic players, beyond just our two metropolitan areas. I’d like to see that access renewed for next year, and not simply by moving the event to the Bay Area and handing the inconvenience off to our friends in Southern California.

This week’s In Development – Pushing deck designs decisively

It’s In Development time this week, brought in under the wire by our crack editors, since I was forced to turn it in almost a full day behind schedule due to travel issues.
This time around, we’re looking at how to push a deck design toward success, through our own risk aversion and other natural human limitations. In the process, I highlight two recent successful deck designs, and my own updated BRG Planeswalker Control deck.
I also made a mistake in putting together Consuming Vapors and Bituminous Blast, but about a million people corrected me, so that’s fine. 🙂
Click here to read this week’s article, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Leveling up – rares that should have been mythic

If you haven’t read it already, check out my evaluation of mythics and let me know if you agree or disagree. Overall, I found I was pretty happy with the hit rate on mythics feeling like mythics.
The corollary question, of course, is whether any rares feel as if they ought to have been mythic instead. With that in mind, I did the same set-by-set run through of rares (from those sets that also have mythics) with an eye toward identifying rares that push my ‘mythic’ button.
Fascinatingly, I noticed that my emotional response to most rares during this review was either “meh” or “seems good.” That is, a rare either doesn’t interest me or strikes me as a good, functional card. Sometimes I found myself thinking, “Yeah, this clearly needs to be rare for Limited,” but I almost never found myself thinking “This card is awesome!”
To be clear, I think some of the rares are very good, or even amazing – Stoneforge Mystic comes to mind. But they don’t trigger the “awesome” response that I’ve noticed I tend to attach to mythics. It often feels like rares are rares for the sake of Limited, but mythics are mythics for the sake of awesomeness.
So, applying the same, “Is it exciting to open this card?” standard, which rares really should have been mythic? Click through to the extended entry to find out.

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The mythic hit list – mythic or not?

So what makes a good mythic? What differentiates a mythic from a rare? Why do I have a Princess Mononoke themed Thornling side-by-side with the real card?
As a regular listener to any number of Magic podcasts, I’ve heard variations on this question come up again and again. My take on the idea behind what makes a mythic is very simple:
Opening a mythic should be awesome.
Just that. Something about the mythic, some combination of its traits and flavor should make that experience of opening a pack thrilling – something that makes me glad I’m opening packs.
To clarify, I only ever open packs if I win them as prizes. Nonetheless, I think this is the clear best standard for mythics, and it’s one that I’ve experienced with the Uniques in Mechwarrior and the Very Rares in Star Wars Miniatures.
With that in mind, I’ve gone through all the mythics to date and rated them on how appropriate they are as mythics. Click through to the extended to see how close to the mark Wizards are in making mythics, well, mythic.

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Brilliant Tentacles

That sure sounds like a movie I never want to see.
If you’ve checked in with this week’s In Development and read through the fairly extensive comment thread, you’ve seen a pair of ongoing conversations. One focuses on suggesting optimizations or alterations to the Planeswalker Jund deck I proposed, and the other is a back-and-forth on the value of the deck concept all on its own. Although I agree that the build can be optimized, and plan on discussing that next week, I think there’s a valuable lesson in the tendency of people to reject ideas that don’t map well onto the proven ideas they’ve already seen in action.
Clearly, these people aren’t innovators. However, in their mind, they’re not thinking, “New is bad,” because people who continually buy into a collectible card game generally don’t have that attitude. After all, we all get excited about spoilers. Instead, there’s a lack of experience in evaluating completely new archetypes (the alternate here being evaluating tweaks and modifications to existing archetypes). Seen through this lens, any new design is probably evaluated in terms of its degree of digression from a known archetype.
Or, to put it another way, a black/red/green control deck is a really bad black/red/green aggro deck. And if all black/red/green decks are necessarily aggro decks in your current frame of reference, well…there you go.
With that in mind, check out Alex Viksnins’ deck from the top eight of the TCGplayer Boston $5K:

7 Creatures:
Wall of Omens
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
29 Spells:
Path to Exile
Spreading Seas
Esper Charm
Day of Judgment
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Gideon Jura
Liliana Vess
Brilliant Ultimatum
25 Land:
Arcane Sanctum
Creeping Tar Pit
Glacial Fortress
Marsh Flats
15 Sideboard:
Celestial Purge
Doom Blade
Identity Crisis
Kor Firewalker
Kor Sanctifiers

I would love to be able to ratchet back in time a week or so and post this list in an article. What do you suppose the response would be?
I’m betting on negative.
In contrast, I think this is a clever alternative to Polymorph that trades the speed of that archetype for the resilience of not being dead to spot removal. It would be pretty poor in an environment that had extensive countermagic…but hey, that’s not our current metagame. Given the lack of resistance to haymaker spells, you’re highly likely to be able to cast and resolve a Brilliant Ultimatum, flipping up an Emrakul that you’ve set up with Jace, Liliana, or Ponder.
Pleasingly, Brilliant lets you cast the spell, meaning you get the free turn and thus the frightening annihilator effect.
The deck is otherwise a pretty serviceable control deck, which can also operate in that mode and win on the back of Elspeth, Jace, Gideon, Creeping Tar Pit, or potentially Liliana Vess. I like it.

Lauren’s mythic victory

As I mentioned earlier this week, Lauren Lee took down one of the first PTQs of the season using her fine-tuned Mythic build. Now she’s written about her experience in three parts (well, two parts and an appendix of sorts). Here they are:
Part 1 – Deck list and notes
Part 2 – A brief pointer to URW Planeswalker control, which Lauren faced down in the finals
Part 3 – Links to the top eight lists
Congrats again to Lauren. You can see all the top eights from the current Amsterdam PTQ season here. The four reported post-Rise PTQs were won by Grixis midrange (Thomas Ma in Denver), Polymorph (Vincent Thibeault in Quebec), Conscription Mythic (Eric Twarog in Salt Lake City), and Mythic (our own Lauren Lee).

This week’s In Development – Apostate Jund

It’s In Development time again, and this week I’m making a Jund list…in the sense that it contains Bloodbraid Elves and the colors black, red, and green. However…
No Putrid Leech.
No Lightning Bolt.
No Blightning.
Yeah, I expect to get some comments, but I’m really happy with this design, and had a blast with it at last week’s FNM. How can you not love a turn-four Sorin Markov?
Also, Growth Spasm is an amazing card.
If you want to see how I’m misusing my Bloodbraid Elves, click here to read the article and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Mythic to the top

Congratulations to Lauren Lee (aka Mulldrifting) for her first PTQ win (in her second-ever PTQ) at Boston last weekend. She’ll hitting her first PT as a competitor in Amsterdam later this year.
Lauren talks a bit about her PTQ experience here, with a promise of a more detailed report to follow. She ran Mythic without the Conscription package, going 6-1-1 in the Swiss rounds and acing the top eight 6-0.
Congrats again to Lauren. I’ll link to the PTQ report when it goes up.