Standard and Thragtusk

Last weekend there were two GPs—one in Bochum, one in Charleston, and both were the same format (Standard). It’s not often this happens, and it’s very interesting to see how two different metagames emerge without any influence from one another. I wasn’t able to make it to any of those tournaments because of school, but I did watch a lot of the coverage. Standard seemed interesting, at least to watch. [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] reminded me of playing 5cc with [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card]s at Worlds, and that deck was very good.

Of all the decks in the Top 8, the most interesting to me by far is Martin’s (which is technically Brad’s deck, though Brad came up a win short of Top 8ing on his side of the Atlantic):

[deck]Main Deck:
6 Forest
2 Gavony Township
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Shimmering Grotto
4 Temple Garden
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Craterhoof Behemoth
3 Deathrite Shaman
4 Somberwald Sage
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Lingering Souls
3 Mulch
4 Tracker’s Instincts
3 Unburial Rites
Sideboard:
4 Angel of Serenity
2 Cavern of Souls
3 Loxodon Smiter
2 Restoration Angel
4 Thragtusk[/deck]

There’s a lot to like about this deck, the most important of which is that it just goes over the top of everyone else. [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card] is a big trump in any sort of stalled matchup (sometimes with the help of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], which I assume names Beast in the great majority of games). It’s also relevant that you can kill them the turn you play it, making you completely immune to cards like [card]Mark of Mutiny[/card] that would otherwise be good against a reanimator deck.

[draft]gavony township[/draft]

The other important point is how well this utilizes [card]Gavony Township[/card]. I don’t think this would be a great deck without the card. It makes sure all your mana guys are not useless, and transforms [card]Lingering Souls[/card] into a powerhouse. There are only two, but you have [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] and [card]Mulch[/card], so you should be able to find it a reasonable amount of the time.

Township is especially important against UW—the UW decks of today are not extremely aggressive, which means sometimes you just go land – Elf, land – Elf, Township, then pump your guys into 4/4s, and they basically can’t win. Once, [card]Gut Shot[/card], [card]Vapor Snag[/card], [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card], and [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card] would all put a stop in that plan, but now that they don’t have access to any of those cards (or at least most lists don’t, and no one has [card]Gut Shot[/card]), waiting on Township becomes a lot more feasible.

[draft]deathrite shaman[/draft]

With [card]Mulch[/card], [card]Grisly Salvage[/card], and [card]Tracker’s Instinct[/card], and other people playing similar cards, the deck gets a lot of value out of [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]. Shaman has an important effect in this format—it’s great against the Reanimator decks, the UW decks with [card runechanter’s pike]Pike[/card] and [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card], and it’s passable against decks with undying. The key to making it work is to make sure it’s not awful when it’s not great, which means putting lands in your graveyard.

So, how do you beat this deck? Good question. Graveyard hate is good but won’t beat them by itself, and wrath effects—[card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]—will be pretty decent, since Behemoth is not a super threat by itself (though Behemoth + a flashed-back [card]Lingering Souls[/card] already kills most people). The deck has no way to deal with creatures, so particularly powerful ones should give it trouble—[card]Angel of Serenity[/card], for example, is good versus their main and also good versus their sideboard plan.

The last thing to note is the sideboard—13 creatures and 2 lands, which offers the possibility of going even bigger, with [card]Angel of Serenity[/card], or the possibility of simply going aggro with the other dudes. And, more importantly, one of them is [card]Thragtusk[/card]!

When I first saw the deck in a feature match, I assumed it was maindecking [card]Thragtusk[/card], because, you know, this is Standard, and it is [card]Thragtusk[/card]. When I found out the deck didn’t play them, though, I was not shocked—it actually makes sense. When you have a deck with so many mana sources, you can’t afford spells that only go halfway. If you’re playing three mana dorks, you want to be able to accelerate into more than a 5/3. [card]Thragtusk[/card] is, ironically, just not powerful enough.

[draft]thragtusk[/draft]

There has been a lot of talk about how [card]Thragtusk[/card] is too good, or at least too prevalent. Some people even want it to be banned! Now, I certainly don’t think it’s too good. It’s a powerful card, but it’s not broken. Is it too prevalent, as in everyone plays it? That’s debatable—out of the 32 decks that Top 16’d each tournament, half played the card (11 in the main and 5 in the sideboard). By themselves, I wouldn’t say those numbers are ban-worthy.

It is interesting to see how it does shape a format. It is slightly oppressive (I mean, people are maindecking more than four [card]Threaten[/card] effects—of course it’s oppressive), but I would never say that’s enough to even start calling for a ban. It’s only a 5/3 creature, after all. Now if there is one card I would like to see banned, it’s [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. Without Cavern, [card]Thragtusk[/card] is not even that good, and I just hate what the card does in the format and what it stands for.

[draft]cavern of souls[/draft]

Other than that, Standard is actually quite diverse—Jund, Mono-Red, Zombies, G/W, U/W, UWr, 5cc and multiple shades of reanimator are undoubtedly tier one, and I think you’ll be able to do well with whatever deck you choose. That makes for a very healthy format—it’s good when you can play whatever you want without feeling that you’re throwing away percentage points because you’re not playing the best deck.

It’s important to note, though, that diversity is not all there is to a format. Someone will say something like, “man, Standard is boring,” and the reply is always, “NO IT ISN’T THERE WERE SEVEN DIFFERENT DECKS IN THE TOP 8,” as diversity and tedium were mutually exclusive. I do not particularly like or dislike Standard right now—it looks interesting watching it, but I haven’t played a competitive event to truly have an opinion. But I feel that most of the people who dislike the format dislike it for the lack of interaction.

It’s the same thing with Modern—it doesn’t matter how many decks there are, it matters that we don’t feel like we’re playing Magic. As long as cards like [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] keep being printed, there’s always the risk that the format will be bad due to no interaction. After all, when I can’t affect what my opponent does, then it becomes a question of who can do something more powerful than the other (or quicker)—and that’s not a lot of fun.

[draft]azorius charm[/draft]

An aside on UW: first, I think [card]Azorius Charm[/card] has clearly proven itself to be better than I expected. I still don’t think it’s a better card than [card]Izzet Charm[/card], but it’s surely better right now, and has earned its place in most lists, usually as a four-of. That said, I don’t think the environment is friendly for the UW decks right now. You’ll still win, because it’s UW and UW is awesome, but fighting through Cavern-powered [card]Thragtusk[/card]s, [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]s, and [card]Gavony Township[/card]s is very hard. If you do want to play it, you should either try to be very aggressive, with Geist and Delver, or to be very controlling with multiple [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. A deck with no Delver and a bunch of [card]Unsummon[/card]s makes no sense to me, for example.

Modern and FNM

Speaking of Modern, it’s now an FNM format! Again, I’m not in love with the format—it has become all about predicting the right metagame. Successfully assessing which hate will be played and drawing your sideboard cards are way more important than having a tuned list or playing your games well (which is not intrinsically bad, but not my cup of tea). In many of the matches, there is no play you can make that will matter nearly as much towards the outcome than whether you drew, say, [card]Stony Silence[/card]—you’d rather be a bad player that draws their sideboard than a very good player that doesn’t.

It’s unclear to me whether this is a problem that Modern cannot escape from, or just something that is currently happening. It’s also unclear whether that is actually a problem with the format, or if that is just my opinion. I think adding it to FNM is overall positive—it will let people experience the format at lower levels than it’s currently being played (PTQs/GPs/PTs) and it will provide a different perspective than that of pro players. It’s been suggested that playing it at a lower level would make the format better—I don’t think it will, per se, but it is definitely worth trying.

The Robert Jukovik DQ

Last week, at GP Bochum, Robert Jukovik was disqualified from the tournament. While not as big a controversy as Jackie’s DQ, people were still talking enough about it that I decided to chime in too. Here is what happened, as per coverage:

In round nine yesterday, Robert Jurkovic was disqualified for stalling. Being 1-0 ahead, Jurkovic had no winning option left in his deck in the second game, but he did have an Emblem from [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card]. He used the ability to repeatedly cast spells without any influence on the game, even going so far as to countering his own spells.

He performed all his actions in a timely manner, apparently working under the assumption that physical lack of speed was the only mark of stalling. Head judge Frank Wareman clarified, however, “Players are expected to advance the game state. Playing just to advance the clock is most definitely not okay.”

[draft]clockspinning[/draft]

Some people expressed worry that you shouldn’t be forced to concede even if you can’t win—that is certainly true. However, that isn’t all that happened here. Robert wasn’t just “playing,” he was playing things that couldn’t possibly matter, with the express purpose of prolonging the game. What he did is the equivalent of tapping a Mountain at the end of the turn and saying, “pump my [card]Wall of Fire[/card],” and then repeating that 7 times. Even if you do it quickly, I assume everyone would have a problem with that. It is also basically the same principle as mulliganing to 1 to waste time shuffling. That is understandably not allowed, and I’ve seen DQs based on that (Max Bracht from Worlds 2006). If you accept that those are illegal, then it’s easy to see that what Robert did is illegal too.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Jukovik is a bad person or a cheater. Clearly, from the description, he never knew he was doing something illegal, and he was not taking too long to perform the actions—plus I’ve never even heard anything bad or shady said about him, ever. He made a mistake, and he got punished; I really doubt he is getting a ban (or I really hope he doesn’t), and I’m sure I’ll see him there next tournament, like always.

The Triggers Policy

In all honestly, the triggers policy sucks. It might be that we’re just not used to it, but right now I really don’t like it and I hope it’s reversed. If you’re unaware, the new triggers policy means that you have to be explicit about every single trigger you control—even those without visual representation. “Even those without visual representation” is the part that gets you—it includes [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], exalted triggers, and the new [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card] -1 ability (!), for example. I helped judge a PTQ two weeks ago, and the number of people who didn’t understand why they couldn’t get their effects to work even if they were mandatory and were obviously happening was staggering. Can’t say I blame them.

One of the most interesting indications that we don’t like those new rules is that players rarely enforce them. Gabriel Nassif, for example, played an entire Pro Tour without knowing about the rule change. Even though multiple of his opponents could have refused to have his [card]Signal Pest[/card] trigger in a completely legal way, not a single person did it, because it’s just very stupid. If the opponent attacks with [card]Ornithopter[/card] and [card]Signal Pest[/card], are you really taking 0?

[draft]signal pest[/draft]

He only found out about it at the GP weeks later, when one of his opponents actually decided that, yes, he wanted to take 0. Seriously? Let’s just play Magic. I understand why the triggers rule was changed, but I’ve yet to see an explanation on why it was changed a second time to include non-visual triggers, and I don’t see why we can’t go back on this (though of course maybe there is a very reasonable explanation and I just don’t know about it; if any of you do, please enlighten me).

Approaching Pro Players

I would normally never even mention this, but I asked for suggestions and it was the first thing someone mentioned. Since I was also asked about this on the GP coverage chat, I assume it’s an interesting topic for other people as well. Of course I can’t claim to speak for every pro player, but I know most of them agree with me in this:

What’s OK: Signatures, pictures, a random conversation. Those are actually great—most pros really like to sign stuff and take pictures, because it shows people care about what we do, and that’s very important for us. I don’t know a single player who wouldn’t be delighted to sign anything for you—if you want something, just go ahead and ask at any point. Random conversations are also fine—things such as, “I saw you playing [card]Dispel[/card] last round, do you usually main deck it?” or, “Hey, about that article, I disagree with XYZ, what do you think,” or, “do you still play [card]Unsummon[/card] in UW?” are usually great.

Most players will also not care if you ask them for help, especially at a tournament, though reactions will differ if you contact them on Facebook asking for help with a deck. No one will be angry at you, but you might not get an answer, or simply receive a non-answer. I don’t mind it, but I am rarely of any help—I don’t play Magic if I’m not playtesting for a format, so I either don’t know much of what is going on or I can’t talk about it. If you’ve asked for my help and I’ve replied, “sorry, I have no idea,” that was probably the absolute truth.

That’s the reason you don’t see many Standard or Modern articles from me—I don’t actually play a lot of Magic. One thing that is somewhat annoying is, “hey can you look at my Sealed pool and re-build it?” That takes a very long time and a ton of effort to do properly (which is why it’s so difficult!), you have to lay the deck in a mana curve, make all the possible options, see what looks better, etc., etc. Something like, “hey, look at my deck, should I splash for two [card]Explosive Impact[/card]s?” is obviously fine, and I’ll always gladly answer that, but if you ask me to spend half an hour building your deck when I really want to go eat, then you might get a frown in return.

What’s not OK: Acting as if we are best friends. A lot of the time, people assume that, because we all play Magic, we’ve automatically bonded and are now great friends. That is not necessarily true. There are many times when I’m sitting with my actual friends, talking, laughing, or even eating, and someone none of us has ever met randomly approaches and says, “hey can I sit with you guys and participate in your conversations and give my opinion on everything you’re talking about even if it has a lot to do with your personal lives?” “Erhms, sure, I guess?”

Sometimes I’ll ask, “hey Ben, do you wanna draft?” and someone I’ve never seen before will turn to me and say, “hey I’ll draft!” That is a little awkward, and puts us in a kind of uncomfortable position—you see, I don’t want to just draft, I don’t want to just talk, I want to draft and talk with my friends. Hopefully that doesn’t come off as too arrogant, and doesn’t intimidate people from actually talking to us.

The Twitter Police

Another controversy of the last few days took place when someone said something potentially racist and used an official Magic Tournament tag. It was then reported, and Helene, from Organized Play (who you definitely should be following, by the way @Helenebergeot) said that the matter would be investigated. That caused an uproar because plenty of people thought Wizards had no business policing people’s lives outside of actual tournaments and they don’t want to live in perpetual fear that whatever they say on any social media is going to get them banned from tournament play.

Three things here: first, whether or not it was racist is irrelevant. I’m going to assume that he was offensive in some way for purposes of this discussion, which is to talk about the policing rather than this particular case. Second, it’s also irrelevant that it was an “investigation” and not a “ban”—again, if you can be investigated, the implications are there that you can be banned and this is the point of the controversy. Third, I understand that WOTC can likely find ways to ban people if they want to, without even giving a real explanation—the question is not whether they’re legally allowed to police Twitter, but whether they should.

My initial reaction was to side with those who thought it was absurd. After all, what I do in my social media is my business, and just like they wouldn’t ban me from having a fight at school, using illegal drugs or going to jail, they shouldn’t ban me because I made an offensive remark on Twitter. After arguing with some people, though, I changed my mind (yes, that DOES happen! Occasionally)—I was made to understand that the problem was not necessarily the remark, but the use of the hashtag.

When you use an official tournament hashtag, your tweet will be seen by everyone who looks for information about that tournament. What’s more—depending on the tournament, it will go to the front page of the coverage site itself, a representation of the event and the players, and everyone who randomly looks at it will see your remark and assume it’s “accepted.”

When you use such hashtag, you’re obviously intending your tweet to be associated with the tournament, so you should behave as if that is part of the tournament, and they have every right—and even obligation—to police that. So, if you say something on your own page, then it’s ludicrous that WOTC takes any action, no matter how offensive or racist you’re being. When you use the event tag, however, it’s just like you’re in the event, and you’re fair game for penalties.

“But PV, what’s stopping people from just making an account called Paulo12345 and spamming those things anyway?” Well, nothing—but the fact that it can’t be completely stopped doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discouraged.

The Community and the Hate

At first, I wasn’t going to write about this at all. Then I decided that I should, and wrote two long paragraphs about the topic. In the end, I’m settling for just telling you that, if you think it’s ok to be disrespectful towards someone because they’re different than you, well, you’re wrong. It’s not ok, it’s not funny and it’s not accepted. If this is what you want to be doing, we don’t want you around.

That’s all I got for today, see you next week!

PV