Recently I’ve been fostering an obsession with watching Adam Savage clips on YouTube. Aside from his most well-known work with Mythbusters, Adam has also had an illustrious career in the world of filmmaking, and hearing him speak about all the things he’s done is inspiring. At heart, he’s a nerd’s nerd—he has a vast collection of movie replicas and costumes (his Indiana Jones hat was so well made that they actually used it as the template for the one Harrison Ford wears in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and as I hold a particular interest in that field as well, it’s like watching what my life would be like if I were super rich and famous, too. He’s had very little in the way of formal training to do many of the things he does, instead relying on above-average intelligence and a drive to do or build anything. If he runs into a project that requires a skill he doesn’t possess, he simply learns the skill.
“Jack of all trades, master of none.
Often much better than a master of one.”
That second, often forgotten, line is of particular interest to me as a Magic player. We’ll come back to that.
Adam’s background is not in engineering or sculpture, although I’d be willing to bet that he has enough knowledge and skill in both fields to be passable at either. He began as many kids did—building spaceships out of cardboard boxes—only his was a full cockpit built in the closet of his parents’ bedroom.
His childhood saw him foster an interest in being a magician, and he even put on a few magic shows at his elementary school—until a fellow student who served as volunteer from the audience ruined his trick. Upon complaining to a teacher, said student punched him in the nose, and thus ended the magical career of Adam Savage. He decided to be an actor, and was even in a few notable things that you won’t recognize him from before deciding that career wasn’t for him.
In New York City in the 80s, Adam failed to complete school at NYU, but gained a lot of friends from his time there. He tells a particularly fascinating story of how he singlehandedly ruined the senior film project of a (now former-) friend in the following youtube clip.
Looking back on this incident, it’s easy to see why he gave up on the prospect of being an art director for film. Of course, you have to do something with your life, you can’t just quit regardless of your failures. Consider that had he not been such a fantastic failure as a wannabe art director, he never would have found the world of practical effects, would never have met Jamie, and there would be no Mythbusters. Often, what seems like failure in the short term becomes the avenue to our success in the future. We learn, we pick ourselves up, and we move on to the next thing—which could be the one thing that we’ve been looking for all along.
Relationships, jobs, Magic tournaments, deckbuilding, article writing—this applies to literally every single thing you could do.
This weekend I played at a PTQ in Rochester, NY. Rochester has been, until very recently, the closest PTQ to my hometown, and so I try to make it out to that qualifier every season. Unfortunately, as most of my attention is directed at eternal formats, it’s rare that I feel prepared for any given PTQ. The Rochester event is almost always at the tail-end of the season, so I’m working with a developed and established metagame, and I’m playing against people much more familiar with the interactions in the format than I am. This is no excuse, just a reality of the situation. There are plenty of people who go to PTQs all over the East Coast every weekend, and I’m not one of them. Those guys are very good at the decks they play by the end of the season, and those end-bosses must be defeated to claim victory.
The other issue with Rochester’s event being at the end of the season is that I’m nearly always playing a lame-duck format. Any lessons learned or understanding gained by playing in the event is nearly irrelevant the moment the event is over, because I won’t be playing in another PTQ of that format again. It’s annoying, because I always feel like I gain a ton of information from events like these, and if I actually grinded a few weeks of PTQs in a row, I’d have a much better shot at actually spiking one than by just playing one or two a season.
In any event, for this PTQ I knew a few things about the Standard format:
1. Delver is, at least on the surface, the best deck.
2. I don’t have the experience with that deck to be confident that I can win the mirror against players more familiar with it than me.
3. I want to be proactive. Since I don’t know every matchup thoroughly, I’d like to air on the side of the beatdown.
4. Thragtusk is awesome.
5. I wanted to play a deck I’d enjoy over the course of a day. I’m taking time out from things that are actually much higher priority for me to play. If I’m not having fun doing it, I’ve wasted a bunch of time and money.
I settled on Bant Pod. Between Cedric’s article on his PTQ win, and Gerry and Brad’s videos last week with the deck, I felt like it played into a lot of what I liked about the format, and left me some room to sink my teeth into. Here’s the list I sleeved up:
I can’t recall what my 15th slot was, but I know it was not a Stingerfling Spider.
Two points—first, this is basically a carbon copy of GerryT’s list from his videos playing against Brad with GW Elves. I switched [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] to the main, first for a Thragtusk, then replaced the Geist-Honored Monk with a Thragtusk, then cut the Monk entirely. Then I cut a Forest for a Fiend Hunter. I wanted an answer in the maindeck for a Predator Ooze, because you have no actual outs to it, and I thought a few players may be on mono-green.
Second, I have only recently realized how abysmal my skills at constructing non-Legacy mana bases are. Looking at this list, I know for a fact that the mana base sucks. There are very real problems with it that caused me at least a game on the day, but to try and correct them prior to playing an entire event would have been outside my skillset. This is something I’ve recognized that I’ll need to remedy if I intend to succeed in other formats. It’s all well and good to be skilled at Legacy, but you have perfect mana nearly always. When you’re concerned about hitting a turn-one mana guy, and don’t want to draw too many sources that aren’t on-color too early, there’s much more to it than 4 [card misty rainforest]Misty[/card], 4 Scalding Tarn, 4 [card tropical island]Trop[/card]…
My event wasn’t particularly interesting until round four, where I played against a very skilled opponent from Canada. We get a lot of Canadians playing in these events, as it’s only a few hours from Toronto to Rochester, or from Montreal to Syracuse. It’s nice that they come down and boost our turnouts, but it would be sweet if they’d stop taking our invites. Get worse, Canada.
I made a bone-headed mulligan error, by keeping the following on the play:
While this hand would be amazing if you replaced the Plains with a Razorverge Thicket, it’s not good enough. I have to hit a land to play anything in my hand, and no amount of praying is going to guarantee the top two cards of my library are lands. Even if I do manage to hit, I’ll be stuck on a Blade Splicer until I draw a second land, and then my best play is to blink the Splicer, if I even have it anymore. Otherwise I’m just making a naked Restoration Angel, and that’s the best I can hope for. Instead, I kept the hand, and didn’t draw a third land until the game was already a foregone conclusion.
Our match went to three games, and the third was extremely tight. I flooded out badly, drawing only lands and mana guys, although I had a Gavony Township that kept me in the game. I think I made a bad attack at one point, which meant I didn’t get a pump in with Township, and as my opponent killed me at one life, I’m positive this cost me the game. I made a bad decision and a mistake, and I lost. This would have been one of those lessons it would be great to use in future events, but there aren’t any to use them in.
In round five, I played a friend of my round 4 opponent, who was on UW Control. Game one, I came out quickly, but durdled around with Pod too much and wasn’t aggressive enough to beat the four Day of Judgments he played before killing me with [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card], [card gideon jura]Gideon[/card], and [card karn liberated]Karn[/card]. In game two I decided to be more aggressive to combat the threat of the powerful late game, but he resolved three Terminus and two Day of Judgement to seal the deal. He said he built the deck specifically to prey on Pod decks, so I’m not overly upset at the loss, but it does hurt to be taken out this way. Had I not lost so badly in the round prior, I wouldn’t have had to face him at all.
I played out the rest of the rounds to try and squeak some prize out of the day, but lost in the final round to a Delver player who drew particularly well when my heart and head weren’t really in it anymore.
Then, I learned about Ari Lax’s four-color Pod deck.
Everything I hated about my list, Ari’s fixed. And he had a legitimate combo win in the deck, which was awesome. You have no way to interact with opposing creatures outside Mist Raven, and having an Inferno Titan as an option for removal of a [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card] and a [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] could go a long way toward breaking many of the stalemates I ran into with the deck. Picking off a [card talrand, sky summoner]Talrand[/card] without having to trade an [card phantasmal image]Image[/card] for it would be nice, as well, along with having a fantastic way to kill opposing Images and yet another sweet target for our own.
Including Zealous Conscripts into the chain is another piece of the puzzle I’ve missed with Bant. Going from a [card elvish visionary]Visionary[/card] and a [card avacyn's pilgrim]Pilgrim[/card] into a Sun Titan and an [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] in a single turn is CRAZY, and it’s something this deck can do that no other deck has the ability to. It was great to ramp into a five-drop with the Bant deck, but you really had nowhere to go from there.
What I see with Ari’s deck is an evolution that keeps all the things you really want from the Bant build ([card phantasmal image]Image[/card]s, [card phyrexian metamorph]Metamorph[/card]), but basically gets it for free, instead of making your deck play a ton of blue sources to support Mist Raven and Frost Titan.
By the way, I was particularly unimpressed with Blade Splicer and Frost Titan, and Sun Titan was basically just a way station on the path to [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card]. The fact that Ari went down to a single Splicer in his maindeck was another boon for the deck in my opinion.
The last point to make on how Ari’s deck is so much better than the one I played with this weekend is Cavern of Souls. Dear god, I got to witness how insane multiple uncounterable Thragtusks are against Delver, and let me tell you—they can’t handle it in any way. It makes me VERY interested in playing the combo in Standard even after the rotation.
At this point, I think it’s unlikely that there will be many opportunities for me to play Pod before it rotates, but I think the fact that it’s on the top of the list for best decks in Modern means I’ll see the deck again. I like the flexibility the deck allowed for, and it felt particularly difficult to hate out without warping your deck in a significant manner. It was very well positioned in the metagame at the PTQ, and I think that had I played a bit better in round four, there’s a high chance I would have easily made Top 8 from there.
My very good friend Bret made Top 8 with a BW Sorin’s Vengeance deck that he’s been working on for the last few weeks, so congrats to him. This was his second PTQ Top 8, and he advanced further in this one than the last. He met mono-G infect in the semis, which was about the least winnable matchup I’ve seen in recent history. We were rooting for him, but were much more realistically waiting to console him, as well.
Before I forget, a brief note on the Jack-of-all-trades quote from earlier.
As someone who has taken pride in their “Master of One” title for a while, it was a bit of an eye-opener to hear the quote in its entirety, and I think it points to something I’ve subconsciously known for some time. As good as it is to be an expert on Legacy, it doesn’t actually do all that much for you as a Magic player. There are gaping holes in my game that can be attributed specifically to my focus on Legacy, exemplified above in my discussion of non-fetch/dual manabases. As I play more Magic in different formats, I find myself getting better at playing Legacy as well, and growing leaps and bounds in my abilities in the other areas of the game. Legacy is, and will always be the format closest to my heart, but by choosing to play that format at the expense of others, I’m really only limiting myself. In my time as a Legacy enthusiast, I’ve met a lot of players who are one-format Magicians, and these guys all have blind spots when it comes to parts of the game that can be directly tied to the fact that playing Legacy is not like playing other formats. You care about different things in-game, deckbuilding is very different, and it teaches you lessons that aren’t necessarily applicable to other formats—while other formats can teach you a lot that applies to Legacy. Of course, I include myself in this group of half-blind players, but unlike many of them, I’ve been trying to break out of this mold for some time, and hopefully with some success. Because there’s nothing like failure to show you exactly how much you still have left to learn.
“I don’t trust anyone who says they’ve never failed.” – Adam Savage