Much as my friend is excited about playing aggro/combo (read article below this one), I’d have to say control decks are more challenging. Please note that I have chosen the word “challenging” as opposed to “exciting”. Control decks take time to build, time to master, and definitely takes time to win in games and thus control decks are sometimes affectionately called “Grind” decks because it just puts both players through an ordeal.
Playing control is exactly that… controlling the game. It’s not just the “Wham! Bam! Thank you Ma’am!” that aggro decks do or a One-two punch that combo decks tend to. When you play control you’re in it for the long haul.
Control is about making sure you have an answer for almost anything your opponent throws at you. That in itself is a challenge when building a control deck. You have to think of almost every eventuality and prepare an answer for all of them. And that’s not even enough, because when you’re done controlling the game, how are you supposed to win?
There are several factors that are keys to playing control decks effectively.
1.) Preparation – playing the deck is one thing, but to win, you have to know your deck inside and out. Know your options even before coming to the table. How many board sweeps do I have? Do I have enough counter spells? Am I prepared to deal with planeswalkers? It was only recent that I realized how important this is.
2.) Denial – I once read an article about the psychological effect of countering a spell. It said, considering that let’s say your opponent casts a Kalonian Hydra and you happen to have an Essence Scatter and a Doom Blade, both of which are capable of putting that hydra to the graveyard, it is much more frustrating on your opponent’s part to be denied (via Essence Scatter) than it is to kill the creature. Why? It boils down to a feeling of accomplishment, which you would deny via the counterspell. Now, I’m not saying you should pepper your deck SOLELY with counterspells. That’s not going to win anything. But magic is more than just playing cards, you also play your opponent’s mind. Keeping your opponent off balance will wreck not only his/her strategy but also his/her composure. Deny his options by discards, deny his creatures with board sweeps, deny his big spells with counterspells and soon, your opponent will be so frustrated he/she will just throw anything he/she top decks and by then you’ll just swat them away like flies.
3.) Patience – Patience is said to be a virtue. This adage is especially true with control. You’re never in a rush when playing control. Remember, if for some reason, you feel the need to rush in your control deck, it means your opponent has control of the game. It’s okay to take a few hits as long as it’s not lethal. Control decks are like very complicated combo decks. Each card complements the others to achieve a common goal. Much like clockwork, control decks take some time to get really going, but when it does, it’s a juggernaut that only a miracle (thankfully rotated out of standard) can stop.
4.) Play often, play a lot – When it comes to playing, the best teacher isn’t Brian Kibler or Carsten Kotter or any big name player of any format. I can shell out everything I know and it might as well count for nothing because Magic: the Gathering is a personal game. Your experience playing the same deck with the same opponent may different from mine. You can take advise, but more importantly, learn from experience.
5.) Enjoy – Control decks aren’t for everyone. Like I said, it’s takes a long time, it’s arduous, and takes a whole lot more brain power. Strangely enough, I enjoy seeing my opponent sweat. Seeing them grimace under their fake, put-on smile. Barely hearing their curses under their breath. I’m a bit of sadist that way. (MWAHAHAHA!) More than all the advice you’ll ever hear from anyone about playing Magic, my best advice is to enjoy the game, or at least, play a deck that you most enjoy playing.
Next time, I will report on my game trends playing Esper Control/Mill in standard, how the rotation has affected my deck and the current meta (at least here in Singapore).
As far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with speed. I have always taken pride in being fast in most of the things that I do. During elementary days I would take down notes and write answers as quick as I can so I can be the first to raise my hand (while holding a pencil) and first to scream “I’m finished!!!!”. I am a big fan of Need for Speed games and movies from The Fast and the Furious franchise. I play lead guitars and my dream is to be able to shred like Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Romeo. My usual set of favorite characters from anime/games are those that can move swiftly or those that can teleport (Gokou, Kamen Rider Kabuto, Raiden from Mortal Kombat, 4th Hokage Minato from Naruto, Soujiro Seta from Samurai X..this list can go on forever). There is something about haste (not the magic keyword; pun definitely not intended) that excites the very core of my soul. The idea of finishing an act/battle/game in the shortest possible time can make me smile in the middle of intensity 10 earthquake while zombies run amuck.
Let me also add that I am an impatient guy.
I think these two things are the main reasons why I am more drawn to playing aggro and combo decks compared to control. There is just something sweet about turning lots of creatures sideways and winning on 3rd or 4th turn. However, I think it’s more awesome when the right cards are in place and your combo wins the game right then and there. No questions asked (unless you’re playing with a newbie) and you’re shuffling for the next game.
That is the easy and simple part of playing a combo deck. Find 2, 3 or even 4 cards and the game is over. Of course, in real world, most competitive legacy decks will have disruption. It could be counterspells, discard, creature kill or combination of these 3. But then again, the cream of the crop legacy decks are usually blue-based and have disruption of their own. With this, I think it’s safe to say that disruption wars are even out especially on games 2 and 3.
On the top of my head, listed below are some of the more competitve and well-known legacy combo decks:
Sneak and show
The Epic Storm
Glimpse elves (what, you think I won’t mention my favorite tribe?!)
Looking at the decks above, let us now discuss the complex side of this archetype; drawing the combo pieces as early as possible. I have read many articles and forum topics about combo decks and while I can’t and won’t discuss the intricacies of each deck, I noticed one thing in common: 1 or 2 cards make a difference. It is true. On mtgsalvation.com, the glimpse elves topic would have members debate on whether or not they need 1, 2 or no copy of Priest of Titania in their main deck. You have the argument between Summoner’s Pact and Green Sun’s Zenith. On the same website, SnT players discuss the merits of having intuition and the number of copies needed. For other blue-based combo, there would always be a discussion if it’s okay to add a 3rd or 4th copy of Preordain. Combo players look for consistency and if we all live in “Magical Christmas Land” (Evan Erwin’s fave quote), it would always be an automatic 4 of for each card. At the end of the day, I think most players decide on these things by looking at two things: tournament results of others (usually by Pros) and their own experience.
So, if you’re someone new on playing legacy or have played it with an aggro or control deck, I hope I have given you a good yet informative overview of what to expect when building and playing combo. You have to win asap and you need to have the right support cards (and correct number of copies) to enable the combo.
Untap, Upkeep, Draw.
I’ve recently moved to Singapore on a work transfer and I must say that Magic here is very much alive. I’m seeing young ones and the young ONCE, huddling together during Friday Night Magic’s and tournaments. Their format of choice? Standard.
To those who know me, I’ve always played with whatever card pool I already had since time immemorial. Only adding the few cards that I take notice of. As such, I could only play in Legacy format simply because my cards are old. But not to the point of having Alpha lands and power nines. Just old. Like Tempest, 7th Ed old.
In any case, Ravnica (the original one) gave rise to a whole new outlook in color coordination. The idea of milling your opponent to death never really took off in other sets but Ravnica gave form to the idea and Wizards gave it a name: Dimir. Since Ravnica came out, I’ve been obsessing over building the ultimate mill deck. (Thus, this website’s name). All in all, I’ve made 7 revisions to my mill deck and none of them worked. Most often because I had the mill spells, but not enough defenses. I stuck counterspells in it but just didn’t work out. Even got me a full set of Damnation, but it just wasn’t enough. So I put it in stasis.
Since moving to Singapore, I’ve left most of my card pool behind in the caring hands of my co-writer Eladamri, who’s a staunch Legacy player, whose Elf deck I have yet to beat. Moving on, since I left most of my card pool I feel that I’m partly pushed towards playing Standard. Something I’ve never really felt comfortable doing.
See, much as I credit myself for being an MTG fanatic, I’ve never really played competitive Magic. Why? It’s because honestly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I might not be good enough both as a player and as a deck builder. That I might get laughed at. I’m sensitive like that.
Then came Return to Ravnica.
Return to Ravnica meant the return of Dimir. That gave me hope. Hope that perhaps, this time around, I can finally make a working Mill deck that can actually kick ass. However, when RTR first came out, they didn’t include Dimir in the first block.
My first attempts at making a Dimir deck were unsuccessful. I tried many permutations of cards that were exclusively Dimir. Then, I realized what I was missing this whole time: Another color. See, the problem with sticking to your guild colors, is that you don’t have all the answers to all the threats. I incorporated White into the mix. I’ve seen how RWU flash decks work and I liked it. I decided simply to replace the Red with Black and instead of dealing direct damage, I just added a few mill spells here and there.
But… I had to find out if what I’ve been tinkering on actually worked.
I joined my very first FNM.
This would be my 2nd time to join a large legacy event (Large=30+ participants) and before I unassumingly misled some people, let me say this first: I didn’t win. A couple of weeks before this tournament, I have been bragging to my MTG buddies that I have “perfected” my Kamehame Wave deck by adding Staff of Domination. Now, when I say perfected, what I mean is that I have achieved the consistency that I’ve been looking for this combo deck. The goal that I’ve been working on since Manila GP is to be able to win consistently on turn 3 and with endless mix-match of cards, I found the correct combination/number of cards. Here’s what the deck looks like:
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Heritage Druid
4 Arbor Elves
4 Quirion Ranger
3 Birchlore Rangers
4 Priest of Titania
4 Elvish Archdruid
3 Joraga Warcaller
2 Wirewood Channeler
1 Immaculate Magistrate
1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
4 Genesis Wave
4 Staff of Domination
1 Concordant Crossroads
1 Gaea’s Cradle
4 Faerie Macabre
4 Thorn of Amethyst
2 Beast Within
1 City of Solitude
For those unaware of how this deck wins on turn 3:
Turn 1: Play Forest, Play 1cc Mana dork
Turn 2: Play Forest, tap both Forests, tap 1cc mana dork, cast Elvish Archdruid (or Priest of Titania and another 1cc elf)
Turn 3: Tap 2 Forests to play 2 more 1cc elves, tap Archdruid to float 4 mana, cast either Heritage druid or Quirion Ranger, use remaining 3 mana to cast Staff of Domination.
Turn 3: Tap Elvish Archruid for mana and cast Genesis Wave; If it hits Staff of Domination, total of 5 elves in a play and a way to untap Archruid, it’s game over as well.
Note: Any turn 3 (or any turn for that matter) wherein I have 4 elves + active Elvish Archdruid, Priest of Titania or Wirewood Channeler and a Staff of Domination in play and spare 3 mana to untap EA, PT or WC, then it’s game over. I would have infinite mana to be used for Staff’s other ability. Either I cast Concordant Crossroads so that all elves can attack on the same turn or I cast Ezuri and do the infinite pump effect on my non-summoning sickness elves.
The deck can win on turn 3. Of course, as a non-blue combo deck, it is susceptible to disruption (counterspells, discard effects etc.). It is also a bit weak against removal (e.g. Burn, black creature kill spells etc.). I say a “bit weak” because most creatures that I have are 4-ofs so I have the leisure of drawing a 2nd Priest of Titania or Elvish Archdruid or one of my 2 copies of Wirewood Channeler.
So, you may ask, why do I play this deck in a format full of disruption and removal?
- It’s a deck that I designed and edited on my own
- It’s not a net deck
- I enjoy playing elves
Moving on, here are the summary of the 5 rounds that I played before dropping out (it was 7 rounds and I was at 2-3)
Round 1: vs Glimpse-Elves
As we’re both elves, both our T1 started with a 1cc elf. If I remember correctly, I was able to cast Archdruid (or Priest?) on turn 2 while he played lots of elves without casting any Glimpse of Nature. I was relieved and eventually I was able to combo off on 4th turn.
I had no SB that would be effective for Glimpse Elves so I kept my main deck intact.
Turn 1 was pretty much the same. He was able to cast PoT on Turn 2 and I cast EA on my turn 2. On turn 3, he played two or 3cc elves before playing Glimpse of Nature. He played more elves, draw more cards and the moment he played mirror entity (with wirewood symbiote in play), I stopped him and asked him to perform a shortcut as to what he needs to draw to finish the game. He showed me Ezuri and Emrakul. Nuff said.
Turn 1 is again the same. Turn 2 for him didn’t include PoT while I was able to cast EA on Turn 2. Turn 3 I cast a couple of other elves and I was able to cast Genesis Wave for 6 which got 2 Forest, 1 Elf that I can’t remember,1 Staff of Domination, 1 Pot and Concordant Crossroads.
Round 2: vs Dredge
I have read about Dredge but this was my first time playing against it in a tournament. I have a pretty good idea of how this deck can win on turn 1 and I was expecting that on our first game.
It didn’t happen on first turn.
However, since I don’t have the combo pieces that I needed, he was able to finish me off on 3rd or 4 turn via a dozen or so 2/2 zombies.
SB: + 4 Faerie Macabre
Out: – 1 Joraga Warcaller, -1 Birchlore Ranger, 1 Wirewood Channeler, -1 Arbor Elf
He was able to delay my game plan early on as he cast Firestorm on my elves.My opponent was able to dredge 1 Narcomeaba and 1 Bridge from Below on Turn 2. Good thing was I had 1 FM on my opening hand and I was able to remove both cards from his graveyard. This stalled the game long enough for me to accumulate enough elves (via normal casting and via Genesis wave) and after making life computations on turn x, he conceded and we proceeded on our 3rd game.
This was a long game that had him casting 2 or 3 Firestorm on my creatures. That was more than enough to keep me from pulling my combo. He finished me off with zombies and 2 Ichorids.
Note: The result of this matchup might have been different if I had Dense Foliage in my SB.
Round 3: vs Nic-Fit
This is my worst round of the entire event.
I had Joraga Warcaller on my opening hand so I thought of going the aggro route when I played it on turn 3 with 1 +1/+1 counter. I decided to attack with my 3 2/2 elves to his lone Veteran Explorer. I didn’t know better.
He blocked one of my elves which killed off his Veteran Explorer, prompting us to find 2 basic lands from our decks. This is one of Nic Fit’s game plan to ramp up so they can cast their better, high cc spells. He then cast Garruk Relentless and killed Joraga Warcaller. Afterwards, he played Pernicious Deed which killed all my elves then it was his win from that point onwards.
I can’t remember the exact cards I got from my SB but I’m sure it included two copies of Beast Within.
I had a good hand (2 EAs and enough forest and 1cc elves). I cast Beast Within on one of his lands hoping that this would delay him. But I was wrong and he was able to recover by playing a land on succeeding turns. He was able to cast enough creatures while I struggle in finding either a Genesis wave or Staff of Domination. On the turn where he killed me, I think he got 1 3/3 Beast token (courtesy of my Beast Within), 1 Thragtusk and 1 1/1 Wolf token with Deathtouch (from Garruk, Relentless).
Round 3: vs Burn
Disclaimer: I am all for women playing Magic. As a longtime MTG player, I am willing to teach and guide them in playing MTG the correct way. I think it would benefit the MTG community if there are more female players.
However, I personally won’t let any condescension be directed at me if it’s not from a friend of mine. This rule of mine will apply to all regardless of gender.
I was up against the lone female player of this legacy event. I knew she was playing RDW/Burn because I got a look at when she played against another opponent on an earlier round. I kept an open mind and didn’t had any preconceived notions that other rude male players have against female opponents.
Then our game began.
She asked meticuluously for every spell that I played and always backing it up with “it should be done one at a time” or something to that effect. I wouldn’t really mind hearing something like this but then again if it’s with a condescending tone that makes me look like I’m the newbie (though clearly it was the other way around), it’s something I can’t look past into. She even had the nerve to announce that she’s a trainee judge.
By the way, did I mention that this was a pretty long game?
I’m not sure if she was bad at math, or I was bad at math or we’re both predicting each other’s moves wrongly that made this first game a pretty long one. She had 2 Goblin Guides on her side and I had a few elves (but no PoT, EA or WC) with 1 Staff of Domination. Facing an RDW opponent, I knew I could extend the game by gaining life here and there. It did extend the game and I thought I had a good chance of racing her until she finished me off with a Fireblast and Guttersnipe’s trigger.
SB in: +4 Thorn of Amethyst
Out: – 1 Joraga Warcaller, -1 Birchlore Ranger, 1 Wirewood Channeler, -1 Arbor Elf
My opening hand showed a Thorn of Amethyst which I played on my Turn 2. When it was her turn, it became obvious that she kept a one-land hand. She was not able to play any spell and any lands on succeeding turns. I combed off on Turn 4 or 5 in front of a Judge in case she had any questions. I explained it to her in my most non-threatening voice and the Judge confirmed the validity of my combo.
I made no changes in my SB and still had 4 Thorn of Amethyst in my deck.
She was on play and on her third turn, she decided to play Sulfuric Vortex then ended her turn without killing my PoT. When it was my turn, she didn’t do anything on her upkeep. when it was my main phase, I played Staff and she let it resolved. I had 5 elves in play at that time (including 1 Quirion Ranger). IT’S COMBO TIME!!!!!
Nope. With an antagonist like this, you think I’ll have it easy??
She wanted me to backtrack on the actions that I took after Staff resolved. I did. She was tapped out so I knew that the only card she can use is Fireblast. She did have Fireblast. So the stack looked something like this:
1. SoD untap ability, targeting Elvish Archdruid
2. Fireblast, targeting EA
I had enough mana to activate SoD’s self untap and activate Quirion’s Ranger’s untap ability (targeting EA) so if I do any of these two, the stack would look like this:
1. SoD untap ability, targeting Elvish Archdruid
2. Fireblast, targeting EA
3. SoD self-untap Ability (if this resolves, I still had enough mana to activate SoD’s untap ability for the 2nd time)
1. SoD untap ability, targeting Elvish Archdruid
2. Fireblast, targeting EA
3. Activate Quirion’s ability, targeting Elvish Archdruid (if this resolves, then I have more than enough mana to untap SoD and untap EA again using SoD’s untap ability
To make it short for those who have a better understanding of stack, I had enough mana to put another ability on stack after she played Fireblast. That being said, I still had the combo on and I’m able to perform unlimited mana and unlimited card draw before Fireblast resolves. One of her friends was sitting right next to her and explained what happened as well as other onlookers that understood what happened. She conceded but everyone can tell that she was not at all pleased at how it turned out. My friend even heard her talking to their play group after our match was done.
Yes, she was still complaining at that time.
Round 5: vs Affinity
I have a friend who plays affinity (but not the exact net deck version) so I kinda knew the cards to lookout for: Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager.
I forgot that there’s another trump card for Affinity: Etched Champion
He defeated me on 4th or 5th turn with a lethal attack from EC equipped with Cranial Plating.
SB in: 4 Thorn of Amethyst (What the hell was I thinking??), 2 Naturalize, 1 Beast Within
Out: – 2 Joraga Warcaller, -2 Birchlore Ranger, 1 Wirewood Channeler, -1 Arbor Elf, 1 Immaculate Magistrate
I’m not sure if I was just tired or I became temporarily stupid when I boarded ToA. It didn’t had any impact at all. I was up against an AGGRO deck. In fact, it was my plan that was delayed because of ToA in play (my Staff costs 1 more to play). In the end, I was able to kill Master of Etherium with Beast Within when he swung for lethal. However, he still had Arcbound Ravager to which he sacrificed all of his other artifacts and he sacrified AR to its ability so that it’s +1/+1 counters be be put on an unblocked Ornithopter.
I got served.
At this point, I was at 2-3 and thought that it still didn’t matter standings-wise if I won the remaining 2 rounds (I would be a 4-3 standing then). The only friend that was with me had dropped off earlier and it was getting pretty late. I came over to the Judge’s table and informed him that I would be dropping off.
To be honest, I was expecting a better performance. But then again, no matter how much I read about legacy articles, I’m still lacking in tournament experience. My sideboard could do some improvement as well. Overall, I’d say it was still a pretty good experience which taught me a few things about my deck and MTG in general:
- Joraga Warcaller was useless almost all the time. I put him on my deck hoping that he would provide the aggro back-up plan that is needed in case the combo is disrupted. I thought he can be the spell where I can dump all my excess mana in case the combo plan isn’t feasible. He didn’t win any games for me.
- Much like my previous assessment of my deck’s predecessor, this deck is also weak against aggro. It lost to Affinity and the zombie tokens of Dredge. I had previous tourneys where I lost to Mono-Green Stompy and Legacy Infect decks. If I don’t get my hands on Elephant Grass, I’m seriously considering putting Fog on my sideboard (or it’s buyback cousin Constant Mists)
- I’m considering putting back Elvish Visionary to help out on those situations where I don’t have the needed combo pieces.
- If you’re planning on playing a 2 color (or more) deck, make sure you have the right amount of dual-color producing lands. No one likes losing but to lose because your deck doesn’t have the correct amount/type of lands is saying something else.
Until next time.
Untap, Upkeep, Draw
I have never been more excited about an upcoming expansion than I am with the new one coming this October: RETURN TO RAVNICA.
See, I’ve played MTG since Tempest through Urza’s Destiny block (and what a broken block that was), but nothing really piqued my interest apart from the Slivers. My interest waned after that, but then the Ravnica block came along and for me, it was the first time I really appreciated an alternate win condition with Milling as a viable method.
Not to mention of course that I fell in love with “Glimpse the Unthinkable” (thus, this site’s name).
I ask myself what wonders House Dimir holds for me this time around. Will I be enthralled by a new miller card? Is there something that will finally put the final nail in the coffin of my forever evolving Miller deck.
I just came from a mall looking for a set copy of Blood Artist and also some Type 1 cards. Then a guy came up to the counter while I was browsing through the card singles and asked the clerk if he could buy some werewolf cards. The clerk isn’t MTG savvy, and so, she couldn’t give her the binder the guy needs.
I don’t quite recall how the conversation between the two had progressed, except it caught my ear when the guy said he’s new to the game. The clerk said he should be buying decks first (Intro decks to be more specific) before he forays into buying singles when he hasn’t a clue how to play.
I asked the clerk to show him the binder containing the Innistrad block as it had the most number of werewolves. I was honestly skeptical about the guy because I’ve never met anyone who was totally new to the game. I mean, I was a newbie too at one point in my life, and back then I had people advising me on how to play, what to play, what colors to use, how to make decks, that kind of stuff.
He asked me what the marker cards were and at that point, my doubts were confirmed, he really was a newbie.
It was at that point that I felt a surge of unexplained happiness. It’s because I’ve always read MaRo (Mark Rosewater) talk about enticing new players to jump in the game and right there, I bore witness to a new planeswalker lighting up his spark.
I can finally say that my Sliver Deck is complete. After years of searching and saving money (when I was a kid, money didn’t come easy, in fact, even now it still doesn’t come easy), I finally got my hands on a copy of Sliver Queen! This has been my most coveted, most sought after card in all my years of playing Magic.
On a previous post, I said that I already have a Sliver deck, but that composed mainly of Tempest Slivers, but no Sliver Queen. Even with the bunch of ‘em I got, it only had (what I’d like to think as) the Sliver Queen’s consort, the Sliver Overlord. Together with couple of other cards, the Sliver engine is complete. Below is my current build on my take of the Sliver deck:
4 Ancient Ziggurat
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Sunpetal Grove
1 Acidic Sliver
2 Crystalline Sliver
2 Dormant Sliver
2 Firewake Sliver
4 Gemhide Sliver
1 Heart Sliver
2 Homing Sliver
3 Metallic Sliver
4 Muscle Sliver
1 Necrotic Sliver
4 Sinew Sliver
1 Sliver Overlord
1 Sliver Queen
2 Winged Sliver
2 Intruder Alarm
2 Chromatic Sphere
2 Prophetic Prism
2 Eldrazi Monument
The sideboard consists of a slew of others slivers that provide either protection or evasion, such as Ward Sliver, Pulmonic Sliver, and Shifting Sliver.
My current build is based on either beating down a path to my opponent’s door via the Muscle Slivers and Sinew Slivers (plus the X tokens courtesy of the Sliver Queen) or creating an engine to create infinite Sliver tokens (Gemhide Sliver + Sliver Queen + Intruder Alarm) or draw my entire deck onto the battlefield (Gemhide Sliver + Sliver Overlord + any sliver + Intruder Alarm). A secondary draw engine consists of using the Dormant Sliver with the Gemhide Sliver and Intruder Alarm. The Winged Sliver provides evasion, Crystalline Slivers helps against targeted spells. The spot the Eldrazi Monument takes is replaceable with any of the following: Spined Sliver, Harmonic Sliver, or Horned Sliver.
Harrow provides a means of searching for the right kind of (untapped!) mana and of course, deck-thinning. The prisms provide mana-fixing if I don’t get the color of mana I need and also importantly, a cantrip or a draw if the Dormant Sliver engine stalls.
Of course, it’s quite obvious that there is A WHOLE LOTTA room for improvement on my deck, and Aether Vial is definitely something I’m looking forward to adding to the deck, but for now, I’m quite happy to have my Queen finally home where she belongs.
I started my Magic days as a Black/White mage. The stark contrast has always appealed to me. How the opposites seem to work well with each other. Although I’d bet that most MTG players began their days using simple, basic aggro decks, playing creatures, deciding whether to attack or bide for an opportune time.
In my case, I’m admittedly a Johnny at heart. I started with a Black/White Pestilence control deck. It was a sick, yet warm feeling killing off creatures at my whim, keeping a White Knight on board and either a Pariah attached to it or Worship on the battlefield to keep me safe while I dish out wave after wave of damage via Pestilence. I loved feeling in control of the board… That was until I came across a Blue/Black mage that spoiled it all for me.
Anything I wanted to cast, he’d counter. And anything that fortunately got on the battlefield was either killed via a Dark Banishing or bounced with a Capsize. I’d attack with whatever was on board, but they get picked off with a Prodigal Sorcerer amped up with Death Pits of Rath. I literally had to ask permission for almost anything that I wanted to do. And I loathed it. I loathed the feeling of helplessness.
Much in the same way that Bruce Wayne wanted the criminals to share his fear of bats by becoming one, I felt the need to have my opponents share my shame of having to ask for permission for the spells they want to cast. (Insert evil laugh here)
Since then, I’ve devoted myself to the arcane study of the insulting arts or better known as… Counter Magic.
A friend once told me that countering a spell is really more of a psychological assault (not defense, mind you) against an adversary. Think about it.
Let’s say you have an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite on hand. It’s your turn. You have enough mana to cast it. You take your chance. She lands on the battlefield! YES! And suddenly, she gets killed by a Doom Blade. Sucks, but it’s okay. You were able to stick the landing, but got killed.
Now imagine the same scenario, but as you’re casting Elesh Norn, your opponent would say, “Nope. You didn’t ask permission.” and proceeds to Cancel it. Admit it, it sucks even more to have your bad ass creature get Cancelled than it was killed. Logistically, it was an equal exchange of cards whether it was the Doom Blade or Cancel. Your card for his. In fact, Doom Blade would have been a better choice for your opponent because it would only cost 2 mana as opposed to 3 for Cancel, but having your creature spell casually waved off like it was nothing felt more… insulting. Right? Right? C’mon… you all know that feeling. On the off-side, you’d relish the feeling of superiority, of having a grand spell dismissed for a few measly mana and tearing your opponent’s plans asunder. C’mon… you also know that feeling. Admit it. You love that feeling.
In my case, I’m addicted to that feeling. I want it. I enjoy it. I relish it. (Shudders!)
I’ve seen my share of counterspells since the early days of Magic and while most people would argue that Force of Will is THE BEST counterspell (and I agree) below are the list of (for me) the best of the rest of them in terms of utility, flavor and sheer badassery.
1.) Mana Drain – I agree that Force of Will is THE Counterspell of choice for most mages in terms of utility and and the element of surprise. However, I think, just in terms of bad assery, Mana Drain tips my list, just because it’s not enough to dismiss the spell, you also get to steal the mana and turn it on your opponent’s face.
2.) Counterspell – nothing beats the original. Simple. No exceptions. Just a plain “In your face” spell that says, “NO”.
3.) Power Sink – This, I think, is like the schoolyard bully of counterspells. It demands your lunch AND your money. No problem if you can pay the piper, but if not, Power Sink will leave you with nothing. NOTHING. (mana-wise, at least)
4.) Dissipate – For an extra colorless mana to that of the normal counterspell, not only do you get to wave off any spell, you get to wave it off into oblivion (except in the case of the new Misthollow Griffin). As an addendum, I’d love to put in here “Counterbore” if only because it takes away ALL copies of the countered spell. It just sucks that it costs 5CC.
5.) Undermine – “Counter target spell. That spells controller loses 3 life”. That, in itself, already sums what I want to do. Plus the flavor text is my all time favorite. In case you don’t know, it’s “Which would you like first, the insult or the injury?” Just sheer poetry and pawnage in one counterspell.
6.) Mana Leak – use only in cases of certainty and caution. Personally, I prefer pure counterspells with no exceptions, but if you’re stuck with an Island and another land, Mana Leak is your friend.
There are A LOT of other counterspells available but most of them have special conditions to meet, or have too high a casting cost or have too much drawback to be of effective use. Between Negate and a Mana Leak, I’d prefer the leak any time.
In summary, counter magic is a facet of MTG gameplay that, I believe, is akin to playing poker in terms of adding excitement and calculating risks and calling bluffs. Although Blue isn’t exactly the first color you’d think when someone says “adding spice” to the game, it sure adds flavor to the experience.
Until next time.
“Someday, someone will best me. But it won’t be today, and it won’t be you.”
Let me try to take in a few deep breaths before I begin writing down all the things I’ve been meaning to share. I have to do this (deep breaths) to calm myself. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so excited to write an article. To provide you with a better insight, picture yourself during those times of triumph (e.g. graduating from college, getting a promotion, being hired by your dream employer etc.). Then, imagine not having anyone to talk to about it. Your family went on a vacation. Your friends are still at work. Your cell phones’ battery went out and your charger is broken. To top it off, you don’t have internet connection. That is almost how it felt for me. Almost. I was able to share my story with my wife. She can relate, to some extent, because I’ve taught her MTG basic game play. However, there are a thousand details that I needed to get off my chest. Details of what I have learned during the 9 hour course of the first big legacy event that I’ve attended.
Yes, I’m talking about the recent Grand Prix Manila in SMX convention.
Before I begin, let me re-introduce myself as it has been more than a year since my last article.
- I’m a big fan of Green Magic and I love summoning hordes of elves at my side.
- I’m not a pro MTG player and I don’t claim to be an expert on it.
- I usually play Legacy because of variety of decks that I can play against.
- I play Legacy because I feel that it’s worth investing money into cards that don’t usually rotate out.
- I read a lot of MTG articles from Wizards.com, Starcitygames.com and Channelfireball.com. I also browse popular forums from websites like mtgsalvation.com. Because of this, I am familiar with many different legacy decks and how they work (how to play and win against most of these decks is another matter that I’m still trying to study and explore)
- I have been tweaking my home brew elf ball for the past 2 years. I have built my elf deck around Genesis wave. The most recent version that I played at GP Manila includes 4 copies of Soul of the Harvest. The basic idea is to produce lots of mana via Priest of Titania or Elvish Archdruid and Gaea’s Cradle then use it for Wave. Soul of the Harvest is the card I would want to hit every time I’d resolved a Wave so that it enables me to draw cards, cast another wave until I hit/draw Concordant Crossroads. Initially, I had tried using Regal Force but before the event, I decided not to use it and play 4 SOTH instead.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get this show on the road. I will divide this article into two parts. The first part would include the lessons I’ve learned during the different matches. These are the small things that might be helpful to other players on their first tournament. The second part would cover other important stuff that I’ve seen/done/experienced on that day.
In-game Lesson 1:
“Use your sideboard cards in Game 2 even if you won Game 1”
I know what you might be thinking. Most probably, it’s the same thought that I had when I realized this stupid but costly mistake on later rounds (the event was 7 rounds). For some idiotic reason, my confidence went up a million fold every time I won Game 1 that I didn’t bother sideboarding on Game 2. It was a wrong theory that I had that day. Don’t ask me why I came up with it. The wrong theory was, since I won Game 1, I don’t want to change anything on my deck that will compromise its main build and its so-called “consistency”. I cannot be more incorrect in this line of thinking. If you won Game 1 and you have the necessary hate cards in your SB then for Pete’s sake, use it on Game 2. Your opponent will be using be using his own set of hate against you so you should do the same on your end. Just do it. No questions asked. Even if you have a good matchup against a particular deck, you would want to win as quickly as possible (aiming for 2-0 instead of 2-1) and using your SB cards will help a lot in achieving this goal. Out of the 7 matches that I had, I think 3 or 4 of those might have had a different outcome (won with a 2-0 instead of a 2-1, 1-2 score) if I was thinking straight. I learned that there is a very thin line between confidence and foolishness. Unfortunately, I crossed it during said event.
In-game Lesson 2:
“Be very mindful of your MTG Kitchen table habits”
Pro-player or not, I think it’s safe to say that all of us have our own “habit(s)” that we often do during our kitchen table games (non-sanctioned, casual games). I’m certain that a lot of you are guilty of what I would call “auto-Scry 1” syndrome. Simply put, this is when you look at the top card of your library after seeing your opening hand. I’m guessing it’s to check if it’s the 1st/2nd land that you need to ensure that your opening hand will get you somewhere. Or if you’re running a combo deck, you do this move to check if the top card is your 2nd/3rd combo piece. Whatever the reason behind it, “auto-Scry 1” is not allowed during proper tournaments. You may announce “mulligan” first then look at the top card but not the other way around.
After reading Lesson 1, you might be assuming that I’m guilty of the Auto-Scry 1 syndrome. I’m happy to negate that assumption and tell you point black “No”. What I’m guilty of is one of my kitchen table habits that I unassumingly developed while playing against my friends’ decks that run Path to Exile. The habit is that I would always pick my deck up to look for a basic land whenever I would see a white instant 1cc removal spell from my opponent. I always assumed its PTE when at times it’s Swords to Plowshares (which would have me gain life instead). During the course of GP, I have encountered STP 3 or 4 times. Every single time my opponents would cast it, I would automatically pick up my deck. I would realize a second later that it’s STP so I would sheepishly apologize to my opponent and put back my deck as it is. I was fortunate that my opponents were not that strict about it. It might be because of two things: Either they are just kind enough to let it go or they saw that the order of the cards in my deck remained unchanged so they just allow me to put it back. It would have been okay and all if not for the last match that I had on round 7. It was game 2 and I made the same mistake while a judge was nearby and was watching us. I got a warning for it. Yup, it happened on round 7. The last round. It happened during the time of the event where the outcome of the match won’t matter much to me as I was already at 2-6. From that point onwards, I have made a mental note that I will always check if the spell is STP or PTE regardless if I’m just playing casually with friends or another sanctioned tournament.
In-Game Lesson 3:
“There is a reason why you rarely see a 5cc and up card in legacy”
In my opinion, almost all cards are good. Good in a sense that if you’re able to cast Spell A in any part of the game, the board impact it brings would either fall under the category of acceptable or insanely awesome. Yes, I’m serious with that statement. Think of the most vanilla creatures you know and if you’ve successfully cast those creatures in a game, it nets you a.) a creature that can attack and/or block b.) a creature that can be utilize for other effect (e.g. sacrifice to net another gain). As for non-creature spells, we may have a longer list of “bad” cards (bad cards=not playable even in casual because there other cards that give you the same type of effect or better). Now, if we talk about competitive legacy cards and how they are considered “competitive”, the first and obvious criteria is that the spell’s effect should have a good and immediate impact in favor of the caster. For black mages out there, you might be thinking this is not always the case (as Black magic, in general, will sacrifice/give up anything for power) but then the drawbacks that you get on staple cards like Dark Confidant, Ad Nauseum, Reanimate etc. are always outweighed by the benefits that you get. The second, much stricter criteria, is that the spell has to have a low casting cost. This usually means having a cc of 0, 1, 2 or 3. Yes, you read that right. Zero cc. Force of Will, Daze, Misdirection, Lion’s Eye Diamond and Lotus Petal are some of the few legacy staples that can give you a lot of tempo advantage because of the free cc.
Legacy is a brutal and fast format. It allows players to use decks that can win on turn 1 or 2. To lose tempo in such a format would almost always put you in a bad place. Oftentimes, it quite difficult to recover once you’ve lost tempo. Unless you’re opponent became unlucky with his draws, losing tempo would usually cost you the game. Let’s compare two cards to further elaborate the importance of tempo:
- Counterspell versus Force of Will
The former is a great card. It has been an integral component of decks of past and in recent months, I’ve seen it being used in a few blue-based decks (in place of Spell Snare, I suppose). However, the main gripe with Counterspell is that you have to have two blue mana sources available. In casual games, this is probably fine but in legacy, not all the time. You see, most decks have a turn 1 and turn 2 play. It’s not always considered an optimal play to do nothing on your 2nd turn just to have 2 open blue mana on an opponent’s turn. Yes, you may say that it’s almost always a “1 is to 1” scenario. But why settle for this if you have FoW (and its li’l brother Daze)? These two cards would allow you to cast spells on your turn while maintaining the option of disrupting whatever your opponent does on his turn. If you’ve battled with a legacy merfolk deck, you would have seen this first hand.
Let’s go back now to what happened in the event and how I learned the importance of tempo. As you’ve read above, I played Soul of the Harvest (full set) which complements the decks’ theme greatly. I had this idea that even if my combo won’t go off, a 3rd turn 6/6 trampler is not a bad deal. It did happen during the event. I was able to cast SOTH during my 3rd turn numerous times. The wait for my 4th turn seems like an eternity as my hands are filled with overflowing chakra to be utilize in turning SOTH sideways.
But there was always a removal courtesy of my opponent.
Every. Single. Time.
If you now have the slightest idea how my deck works, you would understand how detrimental it is for my deck’s plan to have SOTH be destroyed/exiled/countered. I lost tempo (a lot of it) during those times. But that is not the end of the story. Since I packed 4 copies of this card, the other non-ideal scenario did come up a couple of times and it made me lose tempo as well.
I had SOTH in my opening hand but I wasn’t able to cast it on 3rd, 4th or 5th turn.
Now we just made a full circle back to the title of this third bullet point. You don’t want to have spells that cost 5 or more because:
- You lose a lot of tempo if the spell is countered or destroyed. The 5 mana (or more) could have been used to cast a spell or two on your turn and still have available mana left to interact with an opponent on their turn.
- You lose a lot of tempo if you are unable to cast the spell as early as possible.
There are exceptions to these guidelines, though. Reanimator and Show and Tell decks can pack huge creatures and can “cheat” them into play consistently. These creatures are usually good enough to win games by themselves. These decks are also able to “protect” their creatures by way of their counterspells.
That sums up the important lessons I’ve learned from this event. I hope I was able to impart some knowledge (no matter how simple they are) to whoever reads this article. I will try to write Part 2 next week which would cover other stuff that I’ve learned.
Until then, Untap, Upkeep, Draw.