Something Better Change

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Craig2

by Craig L. Cameron-Weir

Craig started playing Magic in 1994, when he was 11 years old, but didn't play in his first sanctioned tournament until he was 21. Since then, he's become a regular on Alberta's PTQ circuit with several Top 8 finishes. He lives in Red Deer, Alberta where he studies Network Administration, working towards an engineering degree. In his debut article, he shares his history with the game along with some thoughts on how he would tweak the UG Vengevine deck from the top 8 of GP Columbus.

Since most everyone reading this won't know me, here's the story so far:

Learned to play Magic in 1994. Stopped playing in 2001, at 18 years of age (the minimum drinking age in Alberta. Not a coincidence). Came back at 21, playing my first sanctioned match around the same time. PTQ top 8's, 9th on tiebreakers a bunch of times, sort of accidentally qualified for Nationals in 2010, and then managed an overwhelmingly unimpressive record of 3-4, drop.

I really had expected a better result from the tournament. Many strings had been pulled in order for me to even be there in the first place, and dropping the ball like that felt like terrible. My hobby – wait, no. Magic is more than that. It's part sport, part game of chance, part economics project and part obsession. It's the only thing that's ever held my interest (if not continually) for the majority of my waking life. (Hell, I've had dreams about playing games of Magic, in the sense that I have literally dreamt of winning a Pro Tour. Cameras flash, people cheer, I hoist a trophy – all of it.) So no, it's not really a hobby.

But that's what the people around us see, isn't it? My parents have never understood it. In fact, it might be downright worrisome to them how a 27 year old man can still devote this kind of attention to a game they thought was only a fad, to be tolerated by them briefly and then forgotten. Girlfriends often struggle to understand it, non-gamer friends (not-so)quietly mock you for it, and everyone seems to think it's something you can just quit if you're asked to. But it's not. So when all of the attention we lavish on Magic cards isn't vindicated by our results, what can we do? In the weeks since Nationals, this problem has percolated. It has bubbled, boiled, fulminated, brewed, fermented, roiled, pitched, and otherwise susurrated in and around my brain-case for weeks. Finally, I think it's been solved.

Distilling things down to their most essential building-block level, there are really only two choices to make: quit, or don't quit. Each has pros and cons, and I have seriously considered them both. Quitting saves money and time, excises a whole set of potentially awkward social situations, and eliminates all of the frustration found from successive failures. The argument for not quitting is a little simpler: don't quit, and you'll still be able to play Magic.

Sold, right here.

So since Mamma didn't raise no quitter, what's a Craig to do? Clearly the plan such as it's been up to this point isn't getting the job done. We know this because I've never competed at, much less won, a Pro Tour. I would even 'settle' for a GP or Nationals top 8 as an intermediary goal, but that success obviously isn't yet a part of my resume. Without a doubt, (and to quote an album title from a classic Canadian punk band while not-so-subtly restating the column's name in the process) something better change. That's what this column is really meant to be about – how one man, with maybe a little bit of talent, can use hard work, dedication, and brutal honesty to get somewhere in the world of competitive Magic.

So with the introductions out of the way, I'd like to turn to some actual pseudo-Magical content for a few paragraphs. I'd like to talk about, and more importantly ask for feedback on, something we've all battled with from time to time: tilt.

In case the, err, case wasn't stated clearly enough in the preceding paragraphs regarding the Meltdown in Montreal, I recently experienced the kind of miserable, depressed, garbage-heap feeling full-blown life tilt I used to only read about in Zac Hill articles. It was (and I say this with no exaggeration) somewhere in the Top 3 all-time worst emotional sensations I have ever experienced in my life. It's a sinister cocktail of blame, doubt, worry, regret, and inadequacy that works its way so deep into your head that you begin to think there's actually something medically wrong with you. Of course, maybe that was just me, but the general feeling of malaise we associate with the idea of tilt is probably enough for the purpose of a discussion.

I'm not really sure what happened that brought me out of my nosedive into self-pity. Maybe a little time and distance from the disaster itself put things in a better perspective. Perhaps it was just a matter of winning a few matches for a change. Whatever it was, it worked. What I want to know, though, is how to stay out of that kind of trouble in the first place. Gavin Verhey (whose writing I just cannot bring myself to like, for some reason) has a relatively recent article on the subject where he notes that many of the best players around are quite clearly emotionally detached from the results of their matches. I suspect he's on to something here, and such a state of detachment is one I'll certainly attempt to cultivate. It makes sense though, right? By caring more about respecting and adhering to the process that creates wins (adequate and productive testing, cultivating tight technical play, etc.) than about actually winning or actually losing, you're probably a whole lot less likely to run the freakout play when your eight-year-old opponent rips his third straight runner to steal the match. Or something like that.

Anyway, actual Magical stuff. It's been hard for me to pay super close attention to the mainstream constructed formats lately. After all, there's a new expansion and a major rotation on the horizon a month or two away, and our bout with the current Standard format is long gone at this point. Certainly, I could talk about how this or that particular deck loses this or that particular card in the rotation, and give my opinion regarding the winners and losers of the post-rotation Standard (or Extended, even) metagame. It's not like it's that hard, right? Here, watch:

Jund – Dead deck; is entirely a Shards of Alara block contraption save for some lands, Lightning Bolt, and a tiny handful of other cards.
Pyromancer's Ascension – Dead deck, barring a functional Time Warp reprint.
Turboland – Dead as we know it, but Jace + Oracle = Still a deck. May regress back toward a deck similar to PV & Co.'s from San Juan.
Mythic – Dead deck
Naya – Probably no reason to play this without Bloodbraid Elf, Knight of the Reliquary, or Noble Hierarch.
U/W Control – Pretty much the clear-cut best deck of the post-rotation Standard, until we see more of Scars. Loses Elspeth and Path to Exile, and that's about it.
Valakut Ramp – Loses Rampant Growth and Siege-Gang. Not that difficult to re-tune with different accelerators.

There. Now that I've wasted a few lines of text explaining some obvious garbage, allow me to remind you that Scars of Mirrodin becomes legal for Standard play in October sometime. Scars of Mirrodin. Remember what happened the last time we hung out in that neighbourhood?

I have been toying with the idea of moving into Legacy (and eventually Vintage) as something of a hobby-within-the-hobby for awhile now though, and the results from Columbus are…encouraging, in that regard. Specifically, and without further to-do:

3 Forest
1 Gaea's Cradle
1 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tropical Island
4 Wasteland
2 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills

4 Noble Hierarch
3 Trygon Predator
4 Vengevine
4 Wild Mongrel
1 Wonder
4 Aquamoeba
4 Basking Rootwalla

2 Daze
4 Force of Will
2 Umezawa's Jitte
4 Survival of the Fittest
3 Stifle

Sideboard
2 Faerie Macabre
3 Krosan Grip
4 Spell Pierce
3 Submerge
3 Wheel of Sun and Moon

Full disclosure: I haven't played even a single game with the list as it is right now, and I'm about to lay into it with some snap-cuts and card swaps because I'm pretty sure the version that was played into the Top 8 of Columbus was far from optimal. That's not meant as a slight against the designer or as an indictment of the deck at all, however.

It's just…ok, I don't get it. Obviously the deck really desperately needs its green sources to come with no strings attached. Why is that Gaea's Cradle in there? I know that it can cause some pretty broken plays if you've got two or more dudes in play plus Survival of the Fittest. But what about turn 1? With only 21 lands, this deck is bound to keep a fair cross-section of one land + Noble Hierarch hands. That's an automatic mulligan if your one green source is Gaea's Cradle. I hate introducing unnecessary inconsistency to decks that can win without doing so, and as such, I either want to cut Cradle altogether or add a 22nd land in the form of a basic Forest. Caleb also mentioned some issues he had with his mana in his ChannelFireball article, and I'm definitely on board with cutting the Scalding Tarn for a Wooded Foothills, but the basic Island stays. For now.

My other problem with the deck is Aquamoeba. Back in the day, the 'Moeba was effectively a 3/3 for 1U. With the M10 rules changes, he is pretty clearly a “necessary evil” sort of a card, specifically aimed at a) fuelling Force of Will and b) providing an additional discard outlet for Vengevines and Rootwallas. Caleb's version of the deck has 13 non-Force of Will blue cards, and I think it's important to keep that number at or very close to the same when tuning the deck.

In my quest to improve the deck's discard dudes, I fired up Gatherer and did a quick search for legacy legal Blue creatures of converted mana cost 2 or less with the word “discard” in their text box. Notable results (other than Aquamoeba) include Merfolk Looter/Thought Courier, Waterfront Bouncer, Diplomatic Escort, and Drowned Rusalka.

At the same time, I was watching some ggslive coverage of the GenCon Legacy Championship. In particular, there was a match where Doug Linn was running UG Vengevine against someone whose name I forget with Merfolk. The commentators were talking about Linn's decision to run Merfolk Looter over Aquamoeba, and why wasn't he playing Fauna Shaman instead, since the deck wanted Survival of the Fittest so badly to begin with. Like I said before, the deck needs a certain number of Blue cards to feed Force of Will, so I'm quite certain that's the explanation for the decision on Doug's part to roll with Merfolk Looter. That being said, it looked extremely underwhelming whenever it was in play, and I'd like to think we could do better.

Moving on. Umezawa's Jitte is good and everything, but I have a problem. The problem is that I have a ridiculous love-affair with Sword of Fire and Ice. SoFI has won me more than a few matches in Extended, worn by everything from Tarmogoyf's to Kitchen Finks to Faerie Rogue tokens, and the added value against Merfolk (sure to be on the rise in the overall Legacy metagame, and clearly not a stellar matchup for this deck) is an enormous attraction for me. It also does something the first time it connects, which the Jitte does too, but probably not as well. And since we're playing a deck that eventually makes all of its guys evasive threats, plus plays Trygon Predator starting out, I don't see having too many problems swinging past opposing dudes to get the thing to trigger. The extra mana to cast it could be a dealbreaker, and it's certainly worse against Zoo since it can't thwart their endgame 'burn you the hell out' plan as cleanly.

Now we come to the really controversial part of my take on this deck: Daze. Plain English, I hate actually playing this card, but like that opponents will often play around it when I don't have it. I honestly would rather play a 4th Stifle and a blue tutor target than Daze, or just any spell that's not Daze. Really.

So taking all of that into consideration, I'd like to start out with a list that looks like this:

3 Forest
1 Gaea's Cradle
1 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Tropical Island
4 Wasteland
2 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills

4 Noble Hierarch
2 Trygon Predator
4 Vengevine
4 Wild Mongrel
2 Fauna Shaman
1 Wonder
1 Waterfront Bouncer
2 Merfolk Looter
4 Basking Rootwalla
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress

4 Force of Will
2 Umezawa's Jitte
4 Survival of the Fittest
4 Stifle

So, you'll notice I didn't follow through on the Gaea's Cradle cut. For now, I'm willing to give the card the benefit of the doubt. The ability to power out huge turns on the back of this land plus any number of dudes greater than 1 is probably worth the risk, especially since swapping a Scalding Tarn out for a Green fetch will improve the deck's ability run out a turn 1 Hierarch. I also cut one Trygon Predator and added a singleton Llawan, Cephalid Empress as a tutorable bullet for Merfolk. Maybe it's worth it, maybe it's not. Either way, I'm willing to try it out.

At 11 non-force Blue cards, I think it's still reasonable to expect that FoW will be just fine. The 2-2 split of Fauna Shaman/Merfolk Looter is as close as I want to cut it on Blue spells. Any fewer and I'd be forced to cut a Jitte for something less impressive. Oh, and speaking of Jitte, it's sticking around for the moment. 2 mana is less than 3, and I could see that making a difference.

I'm not going to worry about a sideboard until I've seen how the maindeck shakes itself out. I prefer to build sideboards by determining what decks I'd likely run across at a given event, and then tallying up my weak cards in all of those matchups. With that data in hand, I can build a sideboard that improves my deck as much as possible against all of those matchups without running into the classic problem of being short cards to cut when it comes time to actually make the swap.

This thing is in danger of running long, so I'll wrap it up. Join me next time for more odds and ends, plus a look at what it means to admit that you're a long way from perfect. Until then, sound off in the comments section with your thoughts on tilt (the avoidance of) and whether or not you think I've totally butchered a perfectly acceptable Legacy deck.

Cheers,
Craig L. Cameron-Weir

craigcameronweir at gmail dot com
fact0rficti0n on mtgo

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