Hello everyone, and welcome to the long-delayed newest edition of Troll Aesthetics! Though I’ve been busy, I managed to steal some time away to address something quite important—the rumored formula to becoming a better Magic player and deck builder. I’ve gotten enough emails about this topic that I decided to make a grand trek for it, only to come up empty-handed. There isn’t a magic formula to becoming the best player, competitive or otherwise. As elsewhere, the pathway to success in Magic is an intermingling of your own personal qualities tempered with experience and an open mind. It’s a slow process that waxes those with a good foundation while cutting out the the weak-willed and impatient. Therefore, before you even dream of becoming the next Jon Finkel or Sheldon M., it’s very important to identify what you want out of the game, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Going into battle ill-equipped is the short path to a dirt nap.
Due to the large amount of social interaction in Magic, finding a play group that fills in the gaps of your own foundation is vital towards your own success, as well as theirs. But how do we identify our own key factors, and those of our peers? By using the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. scale, of course!
For those unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. scale is used by Bethesda and Black Isle Studios in the Fallout RPG series as a measure of different character aspects, and feels a lot like the qualifiers used in almost any Dungeons and Dragons campaign. S.P.E.C.I.A.L. breaks down your character into seven key components which can alter everything from how hard your character hits to how lucky they are at a blackjack table, but is balanced to the point of allowing nuanced and barbaric approaches alike to every problem. Likewise, it rewards well-rounded characters rather than one-dimensional beaters or braniacs with the widest array of options. Let’s look at S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and take a moment to see how using this system can best improve our own approaches to the game.
Strength: “Strength” in today’s world is a nebulous term, applied to brain and brawn alike. While we can’t separate the mental flexibility required to win from the game itself, I’m going to simplify the definition of Strength for this article and state that strength measures how hard your deck can hit, and what variety of punch it packs exactly. Depending on the general and list, you can either hit quick (ala Isamaru, Hound of Konda), hard (Thraximundar), or in a delayed, yet exploitative fashion (Combo builds). Flexing your proverbial muscle also brings an intimidation factor to the table that can’t be ignored, and so you’ve got to be mindful of how much strength you display to the table at any given point. The strongest player isn’t always the one who comes out of the gate swinging, but can also be the one who feigns weakness until opportunity invigorates them to act.
Perception: The world is a stage, and as one of its actors it’s a pilot’s duty to put on the best performance they can—their peers expect nothing less, and will rise to the occasion if they fail to do so. Perception is a value based on our ability to interpret known and unknown information, and has an effect on our deductive reasoning during play (for example, threat assessment, or how and when to respond if a player has a certain spell). While we can aid our perception through cards that force information out of other players or alter what others know about us (Telepathy and Peek-style effects), we’ve got to be careful to avoid political upsets and our use of symmetrical effects, as this runs contrary to the value of Perception. Perceptive players are in tune with the game and focused on board position, but are also mindful of what they don’t know, and prepared for it.
Endurance: Packing a mean left hook and being capable of seeing the swing coming almost run secondary to taking the punch and getting right back up. Having high Endurance means being able to survive the early and late game in equal fashion, and being able to recover from devastating effects like Armageddon with ease. While having a resilient deck should be foremost when considering Endurance, we can’t forget the value of being able to sustain an acceptable amount of risk and damage—if you fold easily like a daffodil or get offended when someone attacks you, take a moment to breathe and consider how these plays affect you in the long run. Players with high Endurance always think, fight, and then flee to fight another day.
Charisma: A smile and a joke is never an incorrect play, and can be the perfect foil to your opponent’s focus. Having high Charisma is the difference between being a target and being the guy who leads the assault. Using Charisma can be a game within the game, telling how best to act around your fellow players (or act upon them), and can serve as a great guise for deck strength and pilot endurance by joking about board position without giving away anything. It also offers value that outside of the game through community building. A high Charisma value can turn players into rock stars and leaders who can have sway over ban lists, leagues and more. Charisma tests lists and pilots alike, and is a dynamic quality with which to build upon as a player.
Intelligence: Being educated about your deck list, your opponent’s lists, and all the traits in between allows you to deduce proper plays and toss political woes to the wind. High Intelligence means utilizing information to the point of determining a victor five turns before it happens, or calculating how long it will take you to win based on your opening hand. Without Charisma to disguise it or Perception to fuel it, Intelligence is a cold value that makes playing against you a ruinous experience. Just as there’s an active campaign against intellectualism in the mass media, there is also a rallying cry against appearing headier than your fellows, and so the most intelligent players will utilize not just lists and facts to their ends, but other pilots as well. Intelligence is the most mathematical and logic-based value, but also carries the highest chance for political offense. Build smart, play smarter.
Agility: Can you barrel roll your way out of danger? With a high Agility, your reaction time and blinding plays will leave opponents’ heads spinning. Consistent lists packed with plenty of ways to conjure win cons and snap-judgments form the crux of the value, but can also be its biggest hindrance. Agile players don’t waste time, but don’t always take the necessary additional seconds to think ahead towards the implications of their actions, and feeding the need for speed means taking a VERY linear approach (Why have multiple win cons when you can take a straight line to victory?) to deck construction. Those who have mastered their agility know that speed is only insurmountable once you’ve bent it to your will. Otherwise, it’s like holding back a stampede.
Luck: Luck is the catch-all value that affects everything, and nothing at the same time. Despite what pro players and “innovators” might lead you to think, luck can be manipulated, downplayed, or increased, but never eliminated from play. Tuning your deck list, thinking ahead, and swinging hard can’t save you from those random encounters you’re destined to lose. Sometimes, the cards just don’t fall right, but when they do, you’ll experience joyful blowouts in your favor. If players seek to maximize their Luck value, they should consider the polarizing standpoints of tuning and testing their list on an almost daily basis, or adding as many chaotic elements as they can. Players with unusual Luck values should consider dropping from Magic to play poker, or abstaining from buying lottery tickets, unsafe copulation, or leaving a hermetically-sealed plastic bubble.
Since all values listed here are determined on a case by case basis, the best way to find proper harmony between them is to sit down and determine objectively where you stand in comparison with those you play with, and how you play. While all values can be improved, some take much more observation and honesty. Watch yourself and your friends play. Critique each other, and don’t be afraid to talk about areas that need improvement. Everyone might be S.P.E.C.I.A.L., but only through introspection and focus can we become unique. Commander allows us the time needed to study our play style like no other format ever before it, and without the stress on performance and negativity of it’s constructed counterparts. Take heed of this, and use the hours available to you to meditate upon how to better yourself and your list.
And now a deck list, because my voucher for KYT dollars is null and void if I don’t include one:
Back to my Beyoncés by Jack LaCroix
Considering I have flooded you guys with Sharuum builds over the last month, I decided to revisit another old favorite (though, if you’re curious to see what my new-and vastly improved-Sharuum list looks like, send me an email). By no means a tuned or fantastic list, this particular Captain Sisay build has longevity while providing enough muscle to keep a suitable board presence at all times. Taking note of the board, pilots can also search up an answer for any number of problematic lists, and gain suitable leverage through hardcore duders and soft-locks. There’s combos and tricks to pull, but I’ll leave that to your inquisitive minds.
I hope everyone has had a fantastic holiday, and continues to have a great new year! My best wishes to everyone on MTGcast, Mana Deprived and most of all, my readers here and at The Bitter, Better Man. Until next time, stay classy everybody.
This entry was inspired by my pseudo-hibernation over the last month. Want me to write about a topic you’re curious on? Maybe need some clarification on Commander related stuff? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @jacklacroix, or shoot me an email at Jack@mtgcast.com. You can also read my other material and ask me anonymous questions on my absolutely NSFW blog, The Bitter, Better Man.